Cards set for another 'Showdown'

The countdown to the ‘Showdown' is on. Two of the nation's best team's will square off Monday night at Freedom Hall when No. 7 Louisville and No. 2 UConn get together.

Louisville is no stranger to Top 10 opposition this season. The Cardinals have faced the proverbial bright lights before and they've yet to blink.

We know the Cardinals already own two wins over Top 10 teams this season – a 69-63 decision over then No. 1 Pittsburgh on Jan. 17, and a 67-57 win over then No. 8 Syracuse last Sunday in the Carrier Dome. Monday night against UConn, the Cardinals will be looking for Top 10 victim #3.

Louisville is on a major roll heading into their biggest test of the season to-date.

Louisville faces a big challenge against
Hasheem Thabeet and UConn.

Saturday against West Virginia, the Cardinals looked like the best team in the country during the first 20 minutes of action, building a 45-25 halftime lead that was fueled by the hot outside shooting of junior guard Jerry Smith and the strong play inside of reserve freshman center Terrence Jennings. In the second half, the Cardinals withstood West Virginia's comeback attempt to fend off the Mountaineers 69-63.

"That was as good of a half as we can play," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "That was the first time since I have been a coach we had 33 deflections in a half. We try to get 35 a game. The unfortunate thing we only have four in the second half, which is record low. It was tale of two halves."

Now, Louisville will try to figure out how to put two halves together like the one they played against West Virginia. They'll need to do that to beat the Huskies and notch their third Top 10 win of the season.

"They are a very tough team to play against," Pitino said of the Mountaineers. "We are really happy with the victory. It is better off the way it happened because our players have a tendency to fall in love with themselves too much. It was probably better off that we had a war down the stretch. All of that was good for preparation us."

Louisville will definitely be in for a battle against the Huskies. No. 2 UConn will likely move into the top spot in the national polls by the time they step on the court against Louisville Monday night. The Huskies are 20-1, 9-1 in Big East play. Their lone loss this season – a 74-63 loss to Georgetown on Dec. 29. The Huskies might be the most balanced team in college basketball with four of five starters averaging at least 11.9 points.

UConn is coming off an impressive 94-61 win over Providence on Saturday. The Huskies boast weapons all over the court. Center Hasheem Thabeet dropped a triple-double on Providence with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocked shots. Forwards Stanley Robinson and Jeff Adrien combined for 32 points and 13 rebounds, while guard A.J. Price and Jerome Dyson scored 27 points and dished out seven assists against the Friars.

Here's what's at stake Monday night.

Louisville and UConn will both have nine-game winning streaks on the line when the ball is tipped and the ESPN cameras start to roll. The contest also will have ramifications on the Big East standings. The Cardinals own an 8-0 Big East mark, while UConn is nipping on Louisville's heels at 9-1. Looking further, the game could also impact Big East and NCAA Tournament seeding for both teams – but let's not peak that far ahead at the midway point of a grueling Big East schedule.

"We're just at the halfway point and it feels like we've been through World War I, World War II and World War 3, 4 and 5," Pitino said.

The two teams look similar on paper. Though UConn averages about four points more than Louisville per game (79.1-74.7), the Cardinals are slightly stingier on defense, holding opponents to almost two fewer points (60.3-61.8). Both teams are loaded with star players; both teams have deep benches and both teams attack the basketball on defense – Uconn and Louisville are 1-2 in the Big East in blocked shots.

UConn won last year's meeting 69-67 in Hartford, CT. The Cardinals are hoping the home court advantage works in their favor this time around. Louisville has been strong at Freedom Hall this season, winning 12 of 13 games; UConn, though, hasn't lost on the road yet this season, boasting a perfect 7-0 record.

The stage is set and the countdown to ‘Showdown' is on. Monday night at 7 pm, a pair of Big East heavyweights will slug it out in Freedom Hall while a prime time ESPN national audience watches to see which team is left standing.

Sit tight - tip-off is less than 48 hours away.

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