Big East title at stake for Cards, Hoyas

The Big East conference regular-season championship will be on the line when No. 12 Louisville (24-6, 14-3) and No. 10 Georgetown take the court at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Saturday afternoon.

The Big East conference regular-season championship will be on the line when No. 12 Louisville and No. 10 Georgetown take the court at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Saturday afternoon.

The stakes will be high when the Cardinals and Hoyas clash in the final game of the regular-season as the winner will also receive the No. 1 seed in next week's Big East Tournament – and positive momentum heading into the post-season. (The loser will be the No. 2 seed in the Big East Tourney).

"It's a lot of fun to be in this situation," Rick Pitino said. "It's their senior night and the last game of the season for a championship on national television. There's so much at stake. But it's a lot of fun and I wouldn't want it any other way. I think this type of pressure is great for our basketball team. The pressure of this basketball game – being on the road is great for this basketball team."

With a victory Saturday, Louisville will win
its first Big East regular-season
basketball championship.

Only one other time has the Big East regular-season title been decided between two teams tied for first place in the last game of the season. In 1988, Pittsburgh beat Syracuse 85-84 on the road to claim the Big East title.

"This game is huge," said Edgar Sosa. "It's going to determine who wins the regular-season championship. They are a great team who wants revenge because we beat them at home. They are the No. 1 defensive team in the country and they have a great home-court advantage."

Louisville has won nine straight games coming into Saturday's showdown with Georgetown. The Cardinals have been playing unselfish team basketball since their last loss, a 69-67 setback at UConn, in late January. They've also proven capable of winning on the road this season, going an impressive 8-2 away from home.

"Everybody believes that the team comes first and everybody has bought into it," Pitino said. "It's about team ego and everybody is on the same page. It makes it a whole lot of fun and that's what makes it fun as a coach. They're having a lot of fun and that's a big element to success."

The Cardinals got off to a slow start in league action, dropping their first conference game against Cincinnati. Road losses to Seton Hall and Connecticut in January made it a big challenge for Louisville to be in position to play the Hoyas today for the regular-season title.

"We had to grind it out, change the attitude, change the makeup," Pitino said. "The thing I'm most proud of is it was (against) a very difficult schedule. It was different in terms of styles. We had to grind it out early on. This is the best conference. I don't care what anybody says."

Now, though, Louisville is playing like one of the top teams heading into the post-season. The Cardinals are healthy, deep, play suffocating defense – and the offense has been coming around in recent weeks.

"We're fresh right now," Pitino said. "(We) have fresh bodies and fresh minds right now. We've had a heck of a year. "

Louisville and Georgetown should know each other well. The Cardinals defeated the Hoyas 59-51 last month in Freedom Hall. In that contest, Georgetown built an eight point halftime lead before the Cards came storming back in the second half.

"They're playing Patrick Ewing a little bit more but they're pretty much the same type of basketball team," Pitino said. "They run a little bit more at home. When you play a team a second time both teams make adjustments so you've got to change a second time around."

The Cardinals must get off to a better start against the Hoyas Saturday than they did last month in Freedom Hall.

"We got off to a real bad start in the first half," Sosa said. "I think in the second half we moved the ball around and turned them over. They're a team that likes to play slow and play their tempo. So we've got to turn them over and make them play faster."

The Cards forced 15 turnovers, coming up with 10 steals, against the Hoyas the first game this season.

"We're working hard on the first line of our press to try to get the (opponents) in a speed dribble so the guys in the second line can get those steals," Sosa said. "I think we're doing a good job."

The Hoyas are led by 7-2 center Roy Hibbert, who leads the team in scoring (13.6) and rebounding (6.4), and 6-1 guard Jonathan Wallace, one of the top three point shooters in the league. While Louisville will have their hands full with the talented Hoyas, the Cardinals success stems more from playing smart basketball and staying away from challenged shots.

"We've done a very good job defending their backdoors," said Pitino. "You have to keep them out of transition. And we've got to make sure we stay away from challenged shots. We've been undefeated since the Connecticut game by staying away from challenged shots. When we take less than nine we're undefeated. We've got to continue to do that and our players have bought into that and understand why – we get our press on more, we shoot a higher percentage and our defense is better."

Tip-off is slated for 12 p.m. The game will be televised on CBS.

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