The Louisville Cardinals (22-8, 11-6) defeated St. John's (16-14, 7-10) in first-round action of the Big East Tournament at the XL Center in Connecticut earlier Saturday evening. Louisville has now won 9 of their last 10 games. Before going on this hot stretch Louisville struggled, particularly in January when the Cards won only three out of the month's eight games. One of those losses was to Rutgers at the Rutgers Athletic Center, 70-57.
Matee Ajavon scored 23 points in the only meeting between the two teams this year and despite having won a 10th consecutive contest, Rutgers Head Coach C. Vivian Stringer was vividly upset following the game. "We should be much better," stated Stringer. "We rush and we strain. I don't like to just win. We're not executing. We turn the ball over 20 times. Give me a break. You kidding me? The problem is, soon as I say something they all get tight."
Rutgers did shoot better than 51% from the field in that game while limiting the Cards to just 34%, including 21% from downtown. Ajavon's 15 second half points, however, including 10 straight at one juncture late in the second stanza, did bail RU out. Despite Kia Vaughn's 9 rebounds, Rutgers was manhandled on the offensive glass, 20-9. The Cards were only able to convert those boards into 11 points however.
Louisville finished tied for fifth place in the Big East Conference during the regular season, alongside Syracuse and Pittsburgh. After tie-breakers, Louisville wound up with the #7 seed going into the BET. The Cardinals are 1-2 all-time versus Rutgers, including this season's decision in Piscataway, NJ. Junior Forward Angel McCoughtry came into the contest versus St. John's averaging 23.8 points per game and led the Cardinals with 25 points, on 9 for 13 shooting from the field, versus St. John's. McCoughtry is one of the most prolific scorers in the country.
The Scarlet Knights won their first Big East Tournament Championship last season and boast an 18-11 record in the tourney over the years. Last season, like this season, RU was a #2 seed going in and had to defeat Connecticut in the finals, 55-47. The previous two seasons Rutgers earned a #1 seed, but lost in the Semis (2006) and Finals (2005).
In RU's favor has been one of the most difficult schedules in the nation (2nd ranked strength of schedule according to collegerpi.com). While Rutgers does have 5 losses on the season, all have been to Top-15 teams.
Rutgers comes into the contest versus Louisville averaging 60.5 points per game while allowing 51.1 ppg. Louisville has a wider average scoring margin, putting up 76.3 ppg while allowing 63.2 ppg. The Cardinals are also averaging just a shade under 47% shooting from the field during the regular season, while RU has held every single opponent this season to under 50% shooting. Connecticut was the first team, during the last seven games, to score 60 or more points on RU. Of Rutgers' 29 games this season, RU's opponents have scored 61 or less in 27 of the contests.
Rutgers has never lost in the first-round of the Big East Tournament (4-0), is 8-4 in quarterfinal games, including 4 straight victories in this round, and 18-11 all-time in the Big East Tournament.
ESPNU will provide television coverage, while WRSU and WCTC will both provide the radio telecast. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.