Louisville faces USF in Big East opener

No. 23 Louisville (9-3) has lost its last four league openers but hopes to reverse that trend in Wednesday's Big East opener in Tampa, Fla., against South Florida (5-8, 0-1). The game tips-off at 7:00 and will be televised live on ESPN2.

Last year, Louisville fell victim to underdog Cincinnati 58-57 in the Big East opener in Freedom Hall. Though Louisville finished second in the Big East behind Georgetown last season, the Cardinals would like to get off to a better start this time around.

"I guess the fun starts now with two Big East road games to start out," Rick Pitino said, whose team play at Villanova this weekend. "I think the last two games have prepared us well for Big East play because UNLV was a very tough defensive team similar to Villanova."

Louisville enter league play coming off an emotional 74-71 win over rival Kentucky on Sunday. Edgar Sosa, who was re-inserted into the starting lineup at point guard alongside Jerry Smith, responded with 18 points, including the game-winning, 25 footer with 2.3 seconds left in the game.

Pitino said he'll stick with the same lineup he used against the Wildcats tonight against the Bulls.

Terrence Williams and Louisville start Big East
play tonight vs. USF.

"We don't know our roles totally yet but I think Edgar Sosa made a big step (against Kentucky)," Pitino said. "We're going to go with this lineup primarily because I love having Andre (McGee) and Preston (Knowles) coming in off the bench. I always feel great when you come in with defense."

Louisville nearly gave the game away against Kentucky, blowing a seven point lead in the final minute before Sosa's big shot gave the Cardinals the win – and a big shot in the arm heading into conference action - just before the final horn.

"To turn around and lose that game like that would have been devastating from a psychological standpoint going into the (Big East)," Pitino said. "So now we're going into it with a totally different framework. We can work on things we need to work on – the end of game situations and we can come up with a cure for that."

Though South Florida has won just two of their past five games, Pitino said there will be no easy outs in the Big East. Nine Big East teams are ranked in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll, including No. 1 Pittsburgh. USF played No. 11 Syracuse tough in their first Big East game before losing 59-54.

"We know what the Big East is all about," Pitino said. "There will not be an easy game in the Big East. You may pull away in a given game at the end but you're going to fight hard for 35 minutes."

South Florida is led by guards Dominique Jones and Jesus Verdejo. Jones is the Bulls leading scorer at 17.1 points per game; Verdejo averages 15.5 points. UofL and USF have one common opponent this season – UAB. Louisville beat UAB 82-62 on Dec. 27. USF fell to the Blazers in overtime 78-77 Dec. 3.

Louisville has won seven straight games against USF, including an 80-60 win last year in Tampa when Earl Clark led the way with 18 points and 8 rebounds. The Cardinals have won 10 of the last 11 games in the series.

"The Big East is going to be a marathon not a sprint," said Pitino. "You're going to have to go 12-6 in the Big East to get in the NCAA Tournament or you're going to have to go 11-7 and win a couple in the (Big East) tournament. That's the way you have to look at it."

To this point, Louisville's schedule is rated the 18th toughest according to the Ratings Percentage Index. Only Pittsburgh (No.2 ) and Georgetown (No. 17) have played tougher schedules among Big East teams.

"When it's all said and done we're going to have a very strong RPI in terms of strength of schedule," Pitino said. "We just have to get better and improve. We're nowhere near where we want to be."

Terrence Williams is second in steals in the Big East and 21st nationally, averaging 2.6 per game. Williams was named CBS Player of the Game vs. Kentucky, totaling 19 points and 8 rebounds.

Earl Clark leads the Cardinals with 21 blocked shots and ranks sixth (1.8 per game) in the Big East. Clark needs six more blocks for 100 career blocked shots.

Louisville ranks in the Top 30 nationally in seven statistical categories. UofL is 11th in blocked shots (6.4), 18th in scoring margin (+16) and 20th in assists (17.3).

Jerry Smith has made 53 percent of his three-point attempts the past five games, including all 3 against UK.

T-Will (8.8, sixth in Big East), Earl Clark (8.6, 10th) and Samardo Samuels (6.5, 18th) all rank among the top rebounders in the Big East.

Louisville is rated No. 45 nationally in the RPI; No. 44 in Sagarin.

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