Surging Cards face struggling Rutgers

After three straight wins over Top 20 opponents, No. 9 Louisville (13-3, 4-0) heads to Piscataway, NJ Wednesday night to face struggling Rutgers (9-9, 0-5), the first of two road games for the Cardinals this week.

Louisville enters tonight's game against the Scarlet Knights riding a five-game winning streak, including three straight wins over nationally ranked opponents Villanova, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. The red-hot Cardinals vaulted back into this week's Top 10 and are one of the hottest teams in the Big East at the moment.

Rutgers, on the other hand, is struggling. The Scarlet Knights have lost six straight and are still looking for their first league win in six attempts.

Despite their struggles this season, Louisville coach Rick Pitino knows Rutgers will present a challenge for his surging Cardinals tonight. Pitino pointed out at his pre-game press conference that the Scarlet Knights gave No. 4 Pittsburgh all the Panthers could handle.

Cards roll into Rutgers Wednesday night.

"I watched the Rutgers-Pittsburgh game and Rutgers was leading wire to wire until 4-something to go in the game and they totally had Pitt's number in the game," Pitino said. "Then Pitt hit two straight three's and overpowered them in the last few minutes of the game. We all know how good Pitt is."

Rutgers is led by freshman guard Mike Rosario, a former McDonald's All-American. Rosario averages 17.1 points. 6-9 freshman forward Greg Echenique, a former high school teammate of Samardo Samuels at St. Benedicts, is averaging 9.2 points and 8.8 rebounds.

"Rutgers is a very young and talented team," Pitino said. "This is no longer a rebuilding team – this is a very talented team."

Veterans Hamady Ndiaye, a 6-11 center, and guards Corey Chandler and Anthony Farmer, round out Rutgers' starting unit.

"They have four starters back and two guys off the bench back," Pitino said. "Plus they've got a terrific (freshman) who is from the same high school Samardo is from."

Louisville juniors Edgar Sosa and Earl Clark both turned 21 last week and Pitino likes the way both players have been playing of late. Clark had 16 points and 11 rebounds against Pittsburgh, while Sosa contributed 8 points, 4 rebounds and two assists. Sosa also had two steals vs. Pittsburgh.

"I think Edgar Sosa and Earl Clark have made significant progress from the non-conference schedule until now," said Pitino. "All Earl Clark has to do is play hard and it's obvious how valuable he is to our basketball team. And I asked Edgar to improve defensively and he has."

While some have suggested tonight's game could be a ‘trap' game for Louisville, particularly with Sunday's game at No. 8 Syracuse right around the corner, Pitino isn't concerned about a let-down from his team.

"We know we've got 14 more wars to go and we never say trap game," Pitino said. "Our guys are very tuned in. We could lose (tonight) but it won't be because it's a trap game. We never treat one game more special than another. We played them twice last year and our guys know how tough they are. It was a very close game at Rutgers."

The Cardinals faced Rutgers twice last season, winning 64-49 in Piscataway and 87-50 in Freedom Hall. UofL has won six of the last seven games in the series with the Scarlet Knights. Though Louisville won both games last season by double-digits, Pitino said his team is prepared for a close game. During the Cardinals current five game winning streak, three games were decided by six points or less – and that doesn't count a thrilling OT win over Notre Dame.

"We've been in so many tough games and we don't panic," Pitino said. "We understand our style and that we can come back. We don't panic because we have great confidence that our defense will get us back in the game. We rely on our defense not our offense."

Louisville used an outstanding defensive effort to outlast then No. 1 Pitt last weekend. The Cardinals forced Pittsburgh into a season-high 20 turnovers while collecting 10 steals. Louisville also held the Panthers to 39.3 percent shooting and out-rebounded Pittsburgh 42-38.

"We make mistakes like every team does but we're playing extremely hard," Pitino said. "We're not doing everything that we want to do but we're not too far away from that. We have so much room for growth. Offensively we are nowhere near out potential. We still haven't put a game together where five or six guys have great offensive nights."

"We're doing it with our defense," added Pitino. "We're doing it with an improved rebounding mentality. But we are still not getting multiple guys having great offensive nights."

Perhaps tonight the Cardinals will finally get their offense on track against Rutgers.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPNU.

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