Louisville, the nation's hottest February team, is slumping heading into the first round matchup with the Broncos. The Cardinals have dropped their past two games – to Big East regular-season champion Georgetown on the road and Big East Tournament champs Pittsburgh in the Big East tournament.
in the NCAA opener against Boise State.
"I think we're still playing well regardless of the fact that we've lost the last two games," said Louisville center David Padgett. "The teams that we lost to both played for the Big East championship and Pittsburgh is as good as anybody in the country right now."
The problem for the Cardinals in their last two games: Shooting. In a 55-52 road loss to Georgetown, Louisville made just 41 percent from the floor, including a horrible 22 percent from three-point range. The Cards weren't much better in a 76-69 overtime loss to Pitt, connecting on only 37 percent from the field and 21 percent behind the arch.
Louisville's three guards – Jerry Smith, Andre McGee and Edgar Sosa – struggled in both of those games to find the basket. The trio combined to make just 3-of-33 field goals in the two losses, including a whopping 3-of-22 deep.
"We're taking good shots they just haven't gone in," McGee said. "If you're taking good shots and they don't go in that's basketball. Good shooters know if they get a good look they should be able to knock it down."
Putting the ball in the basket hasn't been a problem for Louisville's first-round opponent. Boise State ranks second in the nation in field goal percentage – 50.9 percent, and average 82 points per contest. In the WAC finals against New Mexico State, the Broncos scored a 107-102 win in three overtimes.
"They're tough," Padgett said. "They are probably one of the top five offensive teams in the country. They shoot the ball extremely well and they're pretty similar to BYU. They get out and run and try to score. It's a very tough opening round game. It'll probably be an up-tempo game and our focus is 100 percent on them."
As good as Boise State has been offensively this season, Louisville has been just as solid on defense. The Cardinals ranked sixth nationally in field goal percentage defense, allowing their opponents to shoot 38 percent. Louisville has also given up just 61 points per contest on the year.
"We really try to focus on what they do offensively because we've taken pride all year in being a good defensive team and that starts with scouting," Padgett said. "So our focus mainly is on how we're going to guard them."
For Louisville, it all starts with good shot selection on offense. If the Cardinals take good shots, they usually stand a better chance to set up their press and control the pace with a stingy half court 2-3 zone.
"We've got to challenge shots and try to take away the attempt in the first place is the most important thing," Padgett said.
"We've got to really get up and pressure them," said McGee. "Ball pressure is key in a game like this."
Rick Pitino has compared Boise State to BYU, a team that beat the Cardinals 78-76 in Las Vegas earlier this season. While the Cards played without Padgett and forward Juan Palacios in that game, Louisville learned a valuable lesson about getting back on defense as the Cougars scored several points in transition that day.
"Transition defense starts with taking good shots," Padgett said. "If we take good shots that enables us to get into our press and set up our defense. When we take bad shots it's hard to matchup on the fly."
Like the Cougars, Boise State prefers to get out in transition and apply pressure to the defense before they get set up in the half court.
"Our defense is going to be tested a lot in this game just because of the way they play," Padgett said.
While the Broncos will provide a stiff test for the Cardinals defense, Louisville appears to have one critical advantage: NCAA Tournament experience. Boise State last played in the tournament in 1994 and not one player on Greg Graham's roster has tournament experience. All five UofL starters have NCAA experience.
"Now that we've been there and we know what it's like hopefully that helps us," Padgett said.
For Padgett, one of three seniors for Louisville, it's do or die time. One loss and Padgett knows his college career will be done. That's something he wants to prevent for as long as he – and the Cardinals – possibly can.
"I've only got a couple weeks left in my college career and I'm going to give it all I've got," Padgett said. "It's one game at a time because there is no tomorrow. You have to take it one at time in the NCAA Tournament because it really is the best 64 teams in the country and anybody is capable of beating anybody. So our complete focus is on Boise State."
Tip-off is scheduled for 9:40 p.m.