Cards hope to slow high-scoring Friars

No. 7 Louisville (19-5, 10-2) hopes to keep pace in the Big East title race Wednesday night against high-scoring Providence (16-9, 8-5) at Freedom Hall.

Like any good fighter, Louisville bounced back from its worst beating of the year – last Thursday's 90-57 loss at Notre Dame - to deliver an impressive 99-54 knock-out of DePaul on Sunday. Preston Knowles led the Cardinals with 19 points against the Blue Demons.

"I think more responsibility is being taken by the members of the basketball team," Pitino said. "I think the enthusiasm is there. I think things are just starting to click for us in terms of focus and young people coming around and understanding what it's all about."

Since being pounded in South Bend, Louisville coach Rick Pitino has noticed some positive changes in his team's practice habits.

"It's been a long time coming," Pitino said. "It doesn't mean we didn't have great effort – we did. We want to win but the fundamentals of the game have not been there. They don't understand certain things. Now TJ's grasping it. Kyle's grasping it. Swopshire's grasping it. We're just young basically."

Louisville handed out 25 assists against DePaul – a number that helped fuel the Cardinals impressive 59 percent shooting performance.

"It's our passing which has been our No. 1 weakness and that's what's improved the last three days of practice," Pitino said.

Terrence Williams didn't start for the first time in 96 against DePaul because of an injured wrist. Williams played just 15 minutes against the Blue Demons and failed to take a shot, though he did hand out five assists. Prior to his injury during a Feb. 4 practice, Williams was scorching the nets at better than a 50 percent clip and averaging more than 17 points per game. Since the injury, Williams has made just 2 of 16 shots in Louisville's last three games.

Williams is expected to return to the starting lineup Wednesday night against Providence.

"I think he's 100 percent or very close to it now," Pitino said.

Junior forward Reginald Delk started in Williams place against DePaul and responded with his best game as a Cardinals, scoring 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting. Delk, though, sprained an ankle in practice Monday and might not be able to play against the Friars tonight.

"Reggie Delk is probably going to be out against Providence," Pitino said. "He sprained his ankle yesterday. I call him Billy Ray Cyrus. He's a one-hit wonder."

Louisville needs to be clicking on all cylinders against the Friars – a veteran squad that ranks third in the Big East in scoring and 20th in the NCAA (79.2 ppg). Providence, 16-9 overall and 8-5 in the Big East, is fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

"Providence is the only team in the country with five 1,000 point scorers in their lineup," said Pitino. "So you know they can score. Like Notre Dame they can shoot it from the hash marks and make it. They're very difficult to prepare for and defend."

Tonight's game should be an up-tempo affair. Both teams like to press and run. The Friars are led by explosive guards Weyinmi Efejuku and Sharaud Curry, who average 13.7 and 10.9 points, respectively, and forward Geoff McDermott, the team's leading rebounder.

"Providence tries to slow your offense down while they run," Pitino said. "The pressure will be a factor."

Louisville won last season's meeting in Providence 80-72. Earl Clark had 20 points and 9 boards to lead the Cardinals. McDermott led five Friars in double figures with 18 points. With just six Big East games left, tonight's game is particularly important for the Cardinals, who are locked in a four-way tie atop the league standings with two losses with UConn, Pittsburgh and Marquette.

"They're a lot like Notre Dame in many respects," Pitino said. "They probably shoot it better than Notre Dame at certain positions. Their inside people are very tough. (Randall) Hanke is the leading field goal offensive player in the Big East and comes in off the bench. They're very deep and offensively talented."

Tonight's game tips-off at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.

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