Louisville has a chance next week to clinch a Big East title, but to put itself in that position, it has to avoid looking past its next opponent.
The No. 13 Cardinals will try to move back into a tie atop the conference standings as they host Villanova on Sunday in their home finale.
Louisville (23-6, 13-3) has won eight straight and 14 of 16, including a 90-85 win over No. 17 Notre Dame on Thursday. The Cardinals shot 53.4 percent from the field and had five players score in double figures, led by a season-high 26 points from David Padgett, who was 10-of-14 from the field to go along with six rebounds and four assists.
“This is a great win for us, but we can’t relax,” said Padgett, who is averaging 12.0 points but has scored 20 or more in three of the last five games. “We want to finish it like the way we’re playing now. We want to win two more games and win a Big East championship.”
The Cardinals trail No. 11 Georgetown—a winner at Marquette on Saturday— by a half-game, and the two teams conclude the regular season at Washington on Saturday.
Coach Rick Pitino said despite his team’s recent success, he doesn’t necessary think the Cardinals are the conference’s best team.
“I think we are a very good basketball team,” Pitino said. “I don’t think that we are any better than Connecticut, Georgetown, Notre Dame or anybody. We are just a hungry basketball team trying to get better each night out.”
The Cardinals are 14-2 at Freedom Hall, including 7-1 in conference games, and have yielded just 57.0 points per game in their Big East home contests.
Villanova (17-10, 7-8), meanwhile, enters this game desperate for a marquee victory to bolster its NCAA tournament chances as well as push to finish at least .500 in conference. The Wildcats had a three-game winning streak snapped Monday with an 85-75 home loss to No. 21 Marquette in which they committed a season-high 23 turnovers that led to 31 points.
Scottie Reynolds scored 14 points while Dante Cunningham and Corey Stokes each added 13. Villanova shot 58.3 percent in the first half, but only 41.2 percent after the break.
“That kind of wore us down there,” coach Jay Wright said. “That’s where you have to give them credit because there were a lot of ‘toughness’ plays. They made all those aggressive, smart, experienced plays.”
Villanova is ninth in the rugged 16-team Big East and 2-3 against ranked teams. Wright admitted being unable to build off a victory over then-No. 13 Connecticut by beating Marquette will be tough to bounce back from.
“You’ve got to feel like, OK, we’re going to take that steady climb. We’re going to keep going,” Wright said. “Then when it doesn’t happen, it brings you back to reality.”
The Wildcats conclude their schedule at home against South Florida on Wednesday and at Providence on Saturday.
Villanova has won the last three games between the teams to take a 6-5 lead in the all-time series. The teams did not meet last season, but Villanova swept two games in the 2005-06 season.