Cards ring in New Year against UNLV

No. 18 Louisville (8-2) will close out 2008 with an intriguing New Year's Eve nationally-televised contest against UNLV (11-2) at Freedom Hall before Sunday's seismic clash against arch-rival Kentucky.

The Cardinals enter the game against the red-hot Rebels fresh off an impressive 82-62 win over UAB last Saturday. After dropping a 70-64 decision to Minnesota, Rick Pitino shook-up his lineup against the Blazers, replacing Earl Clark with freshman forward Jared Swopshire and Andre McGee with sophomore Preston Knowles. Clark will be back in the starting lineup against the Rebels.

"Earl's going to start against UNLV," said Pitino.

Those moves sparked the Cardinals, who shot 50 percent from the floor, made 11 three-pointers, blocked nine shots and out-rebounded UAB by 14. Now the Cardinals will face another solid defensive squad in UNLV.

"UNLV is one of the better defensive teams that you will watch on tape," Pitino said. "They play great defense and they don't give you anything inside the paint. They do a lot of the same things that UAB did in terms of slapping down and creating steals."

With one final tune-up before Sunday's clash against Kentucky – and just two games before Big East play begins – Pitino wants his team to continue to make progress on the court.

Terrence Williams and the Cards will ring
in the New Year vs. UNLV.

"I just want to keep on improving," Pitino said. "I think we're making slow strides. We're nowhere near our potential right now. We're not quick passing like we did last year and that's because (David) Padgett was great at it. We've got to get better at certain rotations defensively but we've got the potential to be a very good defensive team because we're very quick and athletic."

This season, Louisville has been excellent defending the three, holding opponents to just 27 percent shooting from beyond the arch – third-best in the nation. The Cards defense will be challenged by the Rebels.

"Offensively they're playing a lot like Memphis in terms of beating you off the bounce and creating three-point shots," Pitino said. "(Joe) Darger is certainly a weapon. If you give him an open look he's not going to miss much."

UNLV has won six straight games, including a 73-60 win over Southern Utah in their last outing Dec. 23. But the Rebels could be without their best player against Louisville – senior guard Wink Adams.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, Adams is ‘doubtful' for Wednesday's game against the Cardinals after straining his lower abdominal muscle in the win over Southern Utah. Adams, who averages 14 points per game, is the Rebels top scorer and hit for seven three-pointers and 25 points in a win over Arizona on Dec. 20.

If Adams doesn't play, Tre'Von Willis, a transfer from Memphis, will be counted on to carry Adams' scoring load. The 6-foot-4 Willis is UNLV's third-leading scorer at 10.7 points per game and scored 19 points in the win over Arizona.

Willis, an athletic shooting guard, will team with freshman point guard Oscar Bellfield in the UNLV backcourt if Adams doesn't play.

"We're not sure at this point, but right now we're preparing as if Wink's not going to be with us," Willis told the Las Vegas Sun. "We can't worry about that. We have to go out and compete.

"I just want to pick up the slack and be a playmaker."

Tip-Off is scheduled for 6 p.m. The game will be televised live on ESPN2.

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