Big East regular-season title on the line

No. 6 Louisville (24-5, 15-2) will be looking for at least a share of their first Big East regular-season title Saturday against West Virginia (21-9, 10-7).

It's been four years since the Cardinals last won a regular-season conference title – the last a Conference USA title in 2004-05 on their way to the Final Four. Saturday night in Morgantown, Louisville will be looking for at least a share of the Big East title.

Depending on what happens between UConn and Pittsburgh, Louisville could claim the league title outright. If Pittsburgh beats UConn Saturday afternoon and Louisville knocks off the Mountaineers the Cardinals would win the Big East title outright and earn the No. 1 seed in next week's Big East Tournament. If the Huskies and Cardinals both win, UConn would get the No. 1 seed by virtue of their win over UofL last month in Freedom Hall.

"We'll either be champions, co-champions or second place depending on what happens," Rick Pitino said. "It matters what we do against West Virginia not what Pitt and Connecticut do."

Louisville is riding a six-game winning streak, including a 95-78 win over Seton Hall on Wednesday. West Virginia is also hot coming into Saturday's season-finale having won five of their last six games, including a blowout win over DePaul this week. The Mountaineers have been tough to beat at home this season.

"In their last four home games, (Alex) Ruoff has been shooting 48 percent from three, they've made almost nine three's per game and they've won by an average of 19 points," Pitino said. "They play terrific basketball at home. It comes down to fundamentals of the game and how you play the game."


Earl Clark had a career-best 27 points against
Seton Hall on Wednesday.

The two teams have already met once this season with Louisville winning 69-63 on Jan. 31 in Freedom Hall. The Cardinals have won six of the last eight meetings against the Mountaineers, including the past three contests. Louisville used a 23-3 first half run to take control of the game against West Virginia earlier this season.

"They've got a terrific basketball team," Pitino said. "They're great defensively and they're very balanced on offense. This is going to probably be the rowdiest crowd we've seen. It's like going into Rupp. That's what it's going to be like."

The game will be the centerpiece for ESPN's College Gameday. In a close game, free throws could play an important role in determining the winner. That's been a sore spot for the Cardinals of late as they made just 56 percent of their 23 foul attempts against Seton Hall.

"I think we'll make free throws and we'll miss free throws," said Pitino. "We've got to rely on our defense to carry us through. In certain games we'll be hot. In certain games we won't be. The key for us is to just relax at the foul line. That's what I try to get the players to do."

Louisville hopes to finish the regular season strong before heading into post-season play next week. Since dropping three non-conference games in November and December, the Cardinals have rolled through the nation's toughest conference with just two losses. With one more win, Louisville will earn at least a share of its first Big East title since joining the league in 2006.

"I think our players really learned from the (early) losses," Pitino said. "They learned about quick shots. They learned about a lack of offensive rebounding. They learned about not making the extra pass and mental preparation. I think they've kept learning and growing. I think our parts just caught up to the whole."

Since a 33-point loss at Notre Dame last month, Louisville has fined tuned their play. In four of their last six games, the Cards have shot 50 or better from floor. In three of those games, Louisville had 20 or more assists and had double-digit offensive rebounds in five of their last six contests.

Now, a long and tough conference season is at an end. For Louisville, there's a Big East title regular-season title on the line. The Cardinals came up short last season in a similar situation, falling to Georgetown by three in the season-finale with the Big East title at stake. Louisville finished second last season. This time, the Cardinals are looking for the top prize – or at least a share of the league title.

"We understand what's at stake," Pitino said. "We've got to stay tough and every time you hear the roar of the crowd we've got to really dig in. And when their defense picks up we can't play east and west – we have to attack north-south and go back door. Our guys know what to expect and it comes down to talent. Talent prevails in the end."

Tip-off is slated for 9 pm on ESPN.


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