High stakes finale

Louisville's road to the Big East regular-season title will go through Bob Huggins and West Virginia. With a win over the Mountaineers Saturday night in Morgantown, the Cardinals would at least share the 2008-09 Big East regular-season crown.

A shared title in a great league like the Big East would be quite an accomplishment by itself, especially considering that five league teams are ranked in the Top 13 in this week's Associated Press poll. It's a conference that has been called the ‘strongest league in history.' And now, college basketball's talking heads are openly debating whether or not the Big East deserves three No. 1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

A Big East regular-season title this season – shared or outright – would be a banner worth hanging from the rafters.

But the Cardinals can still win the title outright if two things fall into place. First, UConn, who Louisville is tied with at 15-2 atop the Big East standings, must lose to Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon. If the Panthers beat the Huskies and Louisville upends West Virginia Saturday night in Morgantown, the Big East title – and the No. 1 seed in next week's Big East Tournament – would belong exclusively to Rick Pitino's Cardinals.

If UConn wins at Pittsburgh, the best Louisville could do would be a shared title with the Huskies. If both teams win Saturday, UConn would be the No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament by virtue of their 69-51 win over the Cardinals last month. That would mean Louisville would likely have to beat Pittsburgh and UConn on consecutive days to win the Big East Tournament title in Madison Square Garden.

Louisville's been down this road before.

T-Will leads the way for sixth-ranked Louisville.

Last season, the Cardinals lost to Georgetown 55-52 in the season-finale with the regular-season title on the line. Saturday, the Big East's best road team over the last three years must pull off another road win over an opponent desperately seeking a quality win to boost their NCAA Tournament resume – and with a frenzied ESPN College GameDay crowd on hand.

It won't be an easy task – even for the nation's sixth-ranked team.

"We have one game to go where we could potentially play for the Big East championship on the road," Pitino said. "So we're very excited about that. We know we have a tough challenge ahead of us but we're looking forward to the remaining game."

The good news for Pitino – his team appears to be clicking on all cylinders. Following a 33-point loss at Notre Dame last month, Louisville has reeled off six straight wins – all in impressive fashion. The Cardinals have responded to that whipping with a 45-point win over DePaul, an 18-point win over Providence, a 9-point win at Cincinnati, an 18-point win at Georgetown, a 4-point win over then-No. 8 Marquette and a 17-point victory over Seton Hall.

"We got better with transition defense," Pitino said of his team's turnaround since the Notre Dame game. "I think two major keys to this basketball team are when we pass and offensive rebound we are a good basketball team. When we take quick shots we are not.

"When we do not offensive rebound we let the other teams get into transition. We offensive rebounded and passed very well tonight. We over-passed tonight which is a good thing to see because they were trying to get their teammates the ball. I never thought I'd see the day when Edgar Sosa would give up and easy layup."

Against the Pirates in their last outing, Louisville made it look easy – shooting 54 percent from the floor, including 10 of 24 three-pointers, while handing out 22 assists. The Cardinals out-rebounded Seton Hall 44-33, made 12 steals and blocked eight shots. Louisville had four players in double-figures in the contest, with two others scoring nine.

Earl Clark led the way. In his final game at Freedom Hall, the 6-9 junior forward scored a career-high 27 points, grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds and made two steals. Clark did most of his damage from close range – a good sign as the Cardinals head into post-season play.

"The more Earl gets inside, the more productive he is," Pitino said. "He should keep going to the outside 20 percent of the time and keep going to the inside 80 percent of the time (because) he is a tremendous force with his length. He hit turn-around base-line jump shots, little runners in the lane, great offensive rebounding and played excellent defense. He did a terrific job."

Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez certainly came away impressed with Louisville. Gonzalez' team has played UConn twice and Pittsburgh once, losing to the Huskies 62-54 on Feb. 14 and 89-78 against the Panthers last weekend.

"They are the type of team where they go on explosive runs," Gonzalez said. "They are right now an elite team. They have a lot of depth. I think UConn is a great team and so is Louisville. Louisville is as good as anyone I have seen in this conference this year because they can come off the bench. I guess Samardo (Samuels) did not have a great game. I am certainly not knocking him, he had nine points. I was impressed; they go on their bench and get Terrence Jennings. He had 14 points and six rebounds. That is a pretty nice guy to bring in. They have an elite team."

Gonzalez admitted questioning Louisville's guard play. However, after Louisville's impressive performance Wednesday, the Seton Hall coach doesn't think the Cardinals backcourt will slow them in the post-season.

"They have a lot of pieces," he said. "To be honest I questioned their guards - not knocking their guards Edgar Sosa or Andre McGee. I thought maybe when you look at a Lance Fields or an A.J. Price, if they had any weakness maybe it was the point guard. But because they have forwards like Terrence Williams and Earl Clark it does not matter. They are a special team. They are right up there. They are a great team."

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