Cards gearing up for showdown at Syracuse

After winning three consecutive games over Top 20 opponents, some thought ninth-ranked Louisville's road game at Rutgers Wednesday night might be a trap game for the Cardinals. It wasn't as the Cards won going away, 78-59. Now Louisville is getting ready to take a six-game winning streak to No. 8 Syracuse this Sunday.

While a let-down against a team that had lost six straight would have been understandable it simply wasn't in the Cards – who shot a season-high 59 percent against Rutgers and used a 23-0 run in the first half to break open a close game early. From that point, Louisville never looked back – and was never seriously challenged.

"We don't like to say that one game is more important than another but the two things I pointed out to them was that Seton Hall, Rutgers and South Florida are more important than Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Thursday night on his weekly radio program. "And the reason I say that is if you lose to Kentucky or any of those teams you don't fall out of the rankings or too far in the RPI. If you lose to Rutgers you (fall) 20-25 spots the other way.

"It's also a double-edged sword in the (Big East) standings. We lost the Big East championship last year because we lost to Cincinnati and Seton Hall. You've got to take care of business against the teams that do not have a high RPI. They mean just as much as any other game in the league standings."

Rick Pitino's team is 5-0 in league play.

Louisville's win over Rutgers improved their Big East league mark to 5-0 – tied atop the Big East standings with Marquette – also 5-0. Down 7-5 early to the Scarlet Knights, Pitino inserted reserve guards Andre McGee and Preston Knowles into the lineup for a spark. They delivered by turning up the heat and helping force 11 first half turnovers for Rutgers.

"The game changed and the run was sparked when the two microwave guys came in," Pitino said. "It was a two point game, in comes McGee and Knowles, and then lights out. They got after it, the dunks occur and those two guys made it happen. It doesn't show up in the stat sheet what Andre and Preston do but those guys get after it."

Pitino was also pleased with junior point guard Edgar Sosa, who scored 10 points and dished out four assists.

"Edgar played a very good game - no turnovers and he was extremely bright in the way he ran the team," Pitino said.

Terrence Williams continued his hot play. Last week's Big East Player of the Week, Williams had 23 points and 11 rebounds against the Scarlet Knights. That performance came after Williams averaged 22.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists and shot 53.1 percent from the field in a pair of victories over Notre Dame and Pittsburgh last week.

In the Cards five Big East games, Williams is shooting better than 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from the three-point line and better than 70 percent from the free throw line, an area where he struggled earlier in the year. He's also averaging almost 11 rebounds per contest against conference opposition.

"He's a strong candidate for Big East Player of the Year – matter of fact I think he's the frontrunner right now because we're undefeated," said Pitino. "I think he's going to have a much better pro career than a college career because there aren't too many programs as athletically gifted and his basketball skills are catching up to his athleticism. He's shooting well, passing well, rebounding well. Most importantly all he cares about is winning."

While Louisville finished second last season in the Big East regular-season championship race, losing to Georgetown on the final weekend for the title, the Cardinals appear focused on the top prize this time around.

"This is a team that is highly motivated right now," Pitino said, crediting senior point guard Andre McGee for helping focus the team. Pitino added that he would welcome McGee as a basketball coach on his staff next season.

"He's got a great personality," Pitino said. "I told him money is not too good in the beginning but we could get you some food and shelter."

Surprisingly, McGee was tagged with a technical foul against Rutgers – the first of his career at UofL.

"He just jumped up and showed some enthusiasm," Pitino said. "He thought he made a good steal. I told the referee that's the first technical that young man has had in his life. And he stood there dumbfounded."

Now, Louisville is busy preparing for another difficult road game at Syracuse. The Orange, 12-1 at home this season, have lost two of their last three but are 17-3 overall. Syracuse lost at Pittsburgh 78-60 on Monday and fell 88-74 at Georgetown last week. The Orange blew out Notre Dame by 19 last Saturday at home.

"Syracuse is great," Pitino said. "Their starting five could be as talented as any team in the Big East. They've got a lottery pick with Johnny Flynn. The big center (Arinze Onuaku) is probably a late first round draft pick. They've got (Eric) Devendorf who is a fifth year basketball player. (They've) got a McDonald's All-American at small forward (Paul Harris). Ricky Jackson is terrific at the power forward slot. And (Andy) Rautins has improved as much as any player in the Big East."

"They're very talented but I can go down that list with any Big East team," Pitino said.

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