Pitino relishes road test for Big East title

Rick Pitino says he wouldn't have it any other way for his hot Louisville Cardinals. One game - on the road - against No. 10 Georgetown for the Big East regular-season title and a No. 1 seed in next week's Big East Tournament.

The countdown to the Showdown in Washington D.C. is on.

It's the biggest game in the Big East this season. To the winner will go the Big East regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in next week's Big East Tournament in New York.

Saturday at noon, No. 12 Louisville travels to the nation's capital and will attempt to sweep the season series against No. 10 Georgetown.

Last month, the Cardinals overcame an 8-point halftime deficit to defeat the Hoyas 59-51 in Freedom Hall. Now, with one Big East conference game left to be played, Louisville and Georgetown, tied for first place in the league with 14-3 records, look to settle the score – and crown a Big East champion.

It won't be an easy task for the visiting Cardinals.

Terrence Williams and Louisville have an
important date Saturday against Georgetown.

For one, Georgetown has a strong home court advantage. The Hoyas haven't lost at the Verizon Center in more than a year and should get an emotional charge in saying farewell to Roy Hibbert, Patrick Ewing, JR., and Jonathan Wallace on Senior Day.

"I wouldn't have it any other way than on the road," Rick Pitino said during his radio show Monday night. "I think that's the ultimate to try to do it on the road. It makes you much better – much tougher. It's great to play for a championship."

Georgetown, the defending Big East regular-season and tournament champions, figures to be the favorite heading into the regular-season finale.

But while the odds appear stacked against Louisville, the Cardinals are playing the best basketball in the Big East and, despite the odds, shouldn't be counted out. Louisville, simply, is hot. Since dropping a two-point decision at UConn in late January, the Cardinals have reeled off nine straight wins, including wins over three Top 25 foes: Georgetown, Marquette and Notre Dame.

And don't think the Cardinals will be rattled by a hostile, pro-Georgetown crowd. Louisville has played well on the road this season, winning 8 of 10 games away from home this season. Since their 2-point loss at UConn on Jan. 28, the Cardinals are 4-0 on the road in league play, winning by an average margin of 11-points in those contests.

"We've overcome injuries and maturity (issues)," Pitino said. "Everybody's maturing and that's what you want to see and you want to see them come together on the basketball court. It's been a lot of fun."

Like the first game between the two teams in Louisville, Saturday's showdown figures to be a hard-fought, half court slugfest between two of the nation's best defensive teams. Georgetown, boasting the nation's top-ranked defense, and Louisville, the third best defensive club in the college basketball, will get after each other from the opening tip.

Known for their defensive prowess and toughness, Louisville out Georgetown-ed the Hoyas in the first meeting this season. The keys to Louisville's win the first time around: A 29-24 advantage on the boards; an active zone that limited Georgetown to only 4 of 22 shooting from three-point range and full court pressure that resulted in 10 steals; and an offense that attacked the rim resulting in a 15-point differential at the free throw line.

While the Cardinals have been cruising through the Big East, the Hoyas have been fortunate to have ‘lady luck' on their side in recent weeks.

Tied with Villanova, a team Louisville beat by 14 on Sunday, in the waning seconds two weeks ago, Georgetown was bailed out by a questionable foul call 85 feet from the basket that resulted in two game winning free throws for the Hoyas.

Then on Saturday, the Hoyas appeared dead at Marquette with time running out. Down three, Georgetown was fortunate to get a foul call on a desperate three-point attempt from the corner with two seconds left. Jonathan Wallace hit all three charity shots and the Hoyas escaped 70-68 in overtime.

Louisville, meanwhile, has been steaming by the competition, winning 7 of their last 9 games by eight or more points, including a 14-point victory at No. 21 Marquette last month. Though they battled through various injury and maturity-related issues early in the season, the Cards appear to be peaking at just the right time.

"We're coming off a big win on senior night and we had an awesome practice today," Pitino said. "With no day off we had not a good practice, a great practice. We like our basketball team."

Pitino will like his team even more if they can bring home Louisville's first Big East regular-season basketball title this weekend.

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