Louisville focused on title; host Villanova

Two things stand in the way of No. 13 Louisville's first regular-season Big East basketball title: Villanova and Georgetown. The Cardinals (23-6, 13-3) host the Wildcats at 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

Two things stand in the way of No. 13 Louisville's first regular-season Big East basketball title: Villanova and Georgetown.

At 13-3, the Cardinals, who secured a first round bye in the Big East tournament with Thursday's 90-85 win over Notre Dame, are tied with the tenth-ranked Hoyas for first place in the Big East standings. If the Cards can get past both the Wildcats today and Georgetown next weekend, they'll take the gold and earn the No. 1 seed to the Big East Tournament in New York later this month.

"We wanted to get a bye and that was real important to us and now we want to win a conference championship," Rick Pitino said.

The Cardinals can't afford to put the cart before the horse, however. Not with a tough and talented Villanova squad headed to Freedom Hall for Sunday afternoon's ‘Senior Day' contest.

Earl Clark and Louisville hope to set up a
Big East title game against Georgetown
with a win over visiting Villanova.

The Wildcats have won four of their last six games, including ending Connecticut's 10-game winning streak last week, heading into today's contest. In their last outing, Villanova fell 85-75 to Marquette.

"Villanova is a lot like Marquette," Pitino said. "They live for the slap-down steal – they average eight steals per game. They're going to take away our typical offense because they do a great job fronting the low-post. They don't let the ball go inside so we're going to have to execute differently."

Villanova is led by 6-2 Scottie Reynolds, one of the Big East's top guards. Reynolds, a dangerous offensive player, leads the Wildcats with 16.3 points per game. 6-8, 230-pound forward Dante Cunningham (10.4, 6.7) is Villanova's best frontcourt player. 6-5 Corey Stokes has emerged late in the season as one of the top freshmen in the Big East.

"They're very quick, they're very explosive," Pitino said. "They're a little undersized at certain positions. They shoot a lot of threes. And they're very explosive in the open court. This is a team that can play with anybody in the Big East and they've had a lot of time to prepare for us."

Louisville, riding an eight game winning streak, is the hottest team in the Big East entering the month of March. With their victory over the 17-th ranked Irish, the Cardinals ended February with a perfect record. Now, they hope to continue their red-hot ways into the new month.

"That is quite a feat the way our guys played in February," Pitino said. "They are playing not only good basketball but fun basketball. They're having a great time passing the basketball to each other.

"We played well in February but we want to play well in March," David Padgett said. "We're taking it one game at a time and we're not looking ahead. We've won 8 out of 8 and now we're trying to make it 9 out of 9. Our focus right now is Sunday."

During their impressive February run, Louisville proved themselves one of the nation's best teams. During their eight-game February stretch, the Cardinals were an impressive 3-0 against Top 25 ranked teams, won four games on the road, averaged 76.4 points and shot an impressive 49.6 percent from the floor, including 37 percent from the three-point line.

"I think we're playing well but there's always room for improvement," said Padgett. "At this time of the year you want to get better but the bottom line is we're just trying to win. We're going to do whatever we have to do each game to try to win."

With tip-off scheduled at 4:00 p.m., Louisville will begin their ‘Senior Day' ceremony at 3:45. The game will be televised on CBS.

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