Louisville focused on Big East opener vs. USF

Though Louisville's (9-3) game against rival Kentucky is just days away, the Cardinals, who have won four consecutive games, are focused on South Florida (10-2) in Wednesday night's Big East opener at Freedom Hall.

Louisville's highly anticipated game against third-ranked Kentucky is now just a few days away.

But Rick Pitino and his players aren't focused on the Wildcats yet. They're focus instead is on preparing for the Big East opener against improved South Florida at Freedom Hall tonight. The Cardinals won both the Big East regular-season and tournament titles last year.

"If we don't take care of business tomorrow we may not make the tournament," Pitino said. "We'd be in bad shape opening up 0-1 in the Big East at home when you've got to play all those conference road games. Kentucky is a big game but this is the Big East."

The Cardinals won their fourth straight game Sunday with a 79-53 victory over Radford. Since dropping consecutive home games to Charlotte and Western Carolina in early December, Pitino's team has made solid improvement defensively and on the boards - two areas that contributed to their unexpected defeats.

"We had three key players miss two weeks of practice," Pitino said. "We are improving. You see improvement in our defense and rebounding. [But] we're still not passing the ball crisply like we did last year."

UofL has out-rebounded three of their last four foes by double-digit margin.
After losing to Charlotte by 22 and Western Carolina by 8, Louisville has won their past four games by an average margin of 25 points. One of the major reasons for Louisville's improved play lately has been better board work.

The Cardinals were out-rebounded by 14 against Charlotte and only had one more rebound than Western Carolina. In their last four games, however, Louisville has dominated the boards, out-boarding Oral Roberts by 12, Western Kentucky by 9, Louisiana-Lafayette by 18 and Radford by 13.

"I think we're offensive rebounding much better," Pitino said. "The more Kyle Kuric plays the more offensive rebounds we're going to get. He's the back up three and he's going to get a lot of playing time."

South Florida improved their record to 10-2 with a 69-60 win over San Diego Dec. 20, topping their win total from last season (9-22).

"They play extremely hard and they've got some guys that can flat out score," Pitino said. "They're totally different than what we saw from Radford. Although they do have a low-post presence we have to guard them in transition and off the bounce to be successful."

While USF will play without injured forward Gus Gilchrist, Stan Heath still has plenty of weapons, including guards Dominque Jones and Mike Mercer. Mercer had a career-high 19 points against San Diego, while Jones scored 18. Transfer forward Jarrid Famous added 14 and forward Chris Howard added 11 in the win over the Toreros.

"They're still very talented," Pitino said. "They're six points away from being undefeated. They're a year wiser and older. They're playing better than they did last year. This league is tough. It's tougher top to bottom. We got three teams ranked in the Top 10."

The game tips at 7 p.m.and will be televised on WHAS.

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