After narrowly missing its first Big East regular-season title, Louisville looks to begin a run in the conference tournament when it faces Pittsburgh - the team that has eliminated the Cardinals from the tournament in each of the last two years.
The 13th-ranked Cardinals (24-7) ended the regular season with a 55-52 loss at then-No. 11 Georgetown on Saturday, as they missed three chances to tie the game in the final seconds.
The defeat ended Louisville’s season-high nine-game winning streak, as well as gave the regular-season conference title to the Hoyas. The Cardinals still managed to earn the second seed in the Big East tournament and a bye into the quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden.
“It was tough trying to beat Georgetown at Georgetown on Senior Night, but it’s a lot tougher winning the Big East tournament than it is that one game,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
Louisville, which joined the conference for the 2005-06 season, has only managed to win one of three Big East tournament games with both of the losses coming against the Panthers (23-9). The Cardinals lost 65-59 to Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals last season after falling 56-51 in the opening round in 2006.
Louisville did win the previous meeting between the schools this season, a 75-73 road victory on Feb. 24.
Pitino feels his team can finally overcome the Panthers in tournament play.
“This team has been battle-tested, they’ve been road-tested,” Pitino said. “They’ve been through every type of adversity you can have in a team and they’ve come through with shining colors.”
David Padgett, named to the All-Big East first team on Monday, is looking to improve upon his 12-point performance on Saturday. The senior had 21 points and six rebounds in the last meeting with Pitt.
The seventh-seeded Panthers, who have played in the last two Big East title games and six of the last seven, appear to be feeling right at home in New York after posting a 70-64 win over No. 10 seed Cincinnati in the first round Wednesday.
“This is like our home away from home,” said Pittsburgh forward Sam Young, who had 21 points, six rebounds and a career high-tying four blocks against the Bearcats. “We’ve got a lot of New York guys on the team. Their families come out and support us, and they feel like they’re home every time we step in the Garden.”
Young, the team’s top scorer at 18.1 points per game, is averaging 19.2 over the last nine games. A member of the All-Big East first team, the junior forward had 20 points and seven rebounds against Louisville in the Feb. 24 meeting.
DeJuan Blair, the league’s co-rookie of the year, also had 20 points while adding 11 rebounds in that contest, but he faced double- and triple-teams against Cincinnati and finished with two points and six rebounds.
In Friday’s semifinals, the winner of this game will face the winner of the matchup between No. 25 Marquette and No. 14 Notre Dame.