Big East Showdown

No. 6 Louisville (22-5, 13-2) is set for a major showdown Sunday at Freedom Hall against No. 8 Marquette (23-5, 12-3), who will be without star point guard Dominic James. The Cardinals hope to keep pace with league-leading UConn in the Big East standings.

James, a four-year starter for the Golden Eagles, broke a bone in his foot Wednesday in a 92-83 loss to UConn that will keep him sidelined the rest of the season. Maurice Acker, a 5-8 junior who averages just 2.2 points, will replace James in the starting lineup against Louisville. David Cubillan, a 6-foot junior, will also help out at point guard.

"I don't know if it will change Marquette but it will certainly make offenses and defenses different for them," Pitino said of Dominic James injury. "With Acker and Cubillian they have able replacements because they're so strong with Wesley Matthews and (Jerel) McNeal that they still almost beat Connecticut the other night."

Pitino has also made a change at the point in recent games, inserting senior Andre McGee back into the starting lineup in place of junior guard Edgar Sosa. Though Sosa has made 25 assists with just nine turnovers in Louisville last 11 games, Pitino has opted to go with McGee from the start to wear down opposing point guards.

"I just think that most teams we play have great point guards and we need to wear those guys out from the opening (tip)," Pitino said. "And that's what Andre does. If you look at (Deonta) Vaughn and (Chris) Wright's shooting percentage in the second half Andre is wearing people out in zone, man and full court pressure."


Earl Clark could give No. 6 Louisville an edge
against No. 8 Marquette.

Louisville fans are encouraged to ‘White Out' Freedom Hall Sunday afternoon. The Cardinals will also be in 1960's throwback uniforms against Marquette, a team that has won 15 of their last 18 games and ranks as one of the Big East's best offensive units.

"They're the No. 1 scoring team," Pitino said. "Their lack of height is an advantage. They've made more free throws than their opponents have taken. They're great off the bounce. McNeal and Matthews are both great off the bounce and great in transition."

With James out of the lineup, the Golden Eagles will rely even more heavily on McNeal and Matthews for scoring. McNeal, Marquette's all-time leading scorer, averages a team-best 20.2 points, while Matthews adds 18.8 points per game. Lazar Hayward, a 6-6 junior forward, averages 15.9 points and a team-best 8.5 rebounds.

"They'll go one-on-one at any time and they'll still run great sets," Pitino said. "Forty-two percent of their points come in transition. So they're a big transition team. They're very similar to Villanova with more senior talent."

Though Marquette enters Sunday's game as the Big East's top scoring team, the Golden Eagles will also get after Louisville defensively. Marquette owns a +3.9 turnover margin and is holding opponents to 68 points and .439 shooting for the season.

"They're very tenacious defensively," Pitino said. "If you put the ball down in traffic they're going to strip it. They shoot it great, they put it on the floor great and they play tremendous defense. That's why they're a great basketball team."

One of the nation's most heated rivalries – a series that dates back to 1951 – Louisville has won six of the last seven matchups. The Cardinals beat Marquette twice last season – 71-51 in Louisville; and 71-57 in Milwaukee.

"It has been a great rivalry," said Pitino. "We have great respect for their program and I believe they have respect for our program. We've had great games and we expect this to be another great game."

Louisville has a lot on the line against the Golden Eagles. At 13-2 in Big East play, the Cardinals are tied in the loss column with UConn (14-2) atop the league standings and still have hopes of winning their first regular-season Big East title since joining the league in 2006. Louisville will host Seton Hall next Wednesday before traveling to West Virginia to close of the season next week.

"We understand that these two home games are very difficult because of the type of defense we're going to face," Pitino said. "And we realize West Virginia will probably be the toughest road game we'll play all season because of all the outside elements.

"We're fighting for a league championship the same way we fought for it last year. We certainly follow the standings but we play it one game at a time."

Louisville appears to be clicking on all cylinders since a blowout loss at Notre Dame Feb. 12. The Cardinals have won four straight since the loss to the Irish, including a 76-58 win at Georgetown last Monday.

"We've played good all year with the exception of early on," Pitino said. "I think our parts are catching up to the whole. I think now it's not just T-Will or Earl (Clark). All the parts are coming together and that's what we were hoping to see and that's certainly happening. Jerry (Smith) is playing very good basketball right now. Preston (Knowles) is playing terrific basketball. Earl and T-Will and TJ (Terrence Jennings) and Samardo (Samuels) are all coming together and the parts are catching up to the whole."

Tip-off is slated for 12 pm and the game will be televised nationally on CBS.


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