Cards face Villanova in Big East semifinals

No. 5 Louisville (26-5) will face No. 10 Villanova (25-6) at Madison Square Garden Friday night in the Big East semifinals. The Cardinals are looking for their first trip to the Big East Tournament championship game – and a possible No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.

Can the four remaining semifinalists top Thursday's Big East quarterfinal action? It might not be possible.

While Louisville cruised past Providence in the day's first quarterfinal matchup 73-55, the day's other three games were epic contests. Villanova, top-seed Louisville's semifinal opponent Friday night, slipped past Marquette on a last second shot. That was just a preview of what came later when upstart West Virginia upset Pittsburgh and Syracuse toppled UConn in a six-overtime thriller that didn't end until Friday morning.

Now, only four teams remain in the biggest Big East tournament ever: No. 1-seed Louisville, No. 4-seed Villanova, No. 7-seed West Virginia and No. 6-seed Syracuse. Louisville will play Villanova in the first semifinal Friday night at 7:00; West Virginia and Syracuse will tangle 30 minutes after the first semifinal. The winners will square off for the 2009 Big East Tournament title Saturday night at 9 p.m. on ESPN.

Louisville hopes for a better performance
from Terrence Williams, who had a sub-par
outing against Providence.

There's a lot at stake for Louisville, the Big East regular-season champions. Not only are the Cardinals looking for their first Big East Tournament title since joining the league in 2005-06, Rick Pitino's squad is also playing for a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. With three potential No. 1 seeds – Uconn, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh – going down in the league tournament quarterfinal round the door is open for Louisville.

Standing in Louisville's way Friday night is tenth-ranked Villanova. The Cardinals beat the Wildcats 61-60 in Philadelphia Jan. 10 in a game that went down to the wire. Louisville is playing well coming into Friday's semifinal matchup against Villanova, having won eight straight and 18 of their last 20 games.

During their current winning streak, Louisville has played well on both ends of the court. The Cardinals have shot 51 percent from the floor (46 percent from the three-point line) while handing out 146 assists on their 236 field goals in the past eight games. Louisville is averaging 79.1 points during the stretch, winning by an average margin of 16.5 points. On defense, Louisville has limited opponents to 39 percent shooting, including holding Providence to only 33 percent in Thursday's quarterfinal contest.

"I think they're the most aggressive defense we've faced, and consistently aggressive," Providence's Weyinmi Efejuku said. "Forty minutes, they're in your face."

Louisville will have to get defensive against an explosive Villanova squad led by high scoring guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Stokes, and forward Dante Cunningham. Reynolds (21) and Stokes (20) combined for 41 points in the Wildcats 76-75 win over Marquette in the quarterfinals.

In the first matchup between the two teams earlier this season, Louisville held Reynolds and Stokes to just 16 points. The Cardinals will need a similar performance against the Wildcats Friday night if they plan to play for the title Saturday night against either Syracuse or West Virginia.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. on ESPN.

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