As one of only two undefeated teams in the Big East, Louisville is off to its best league start since joining the conference four years ago. To stay at the top, though, the Cardinals need to win for the first time at the Carrier Dome.
No. 9 Louisville looks to improve to 6-0 in the Big East on Sunday when it visits No. 8 Syracuse, which hopes to avoid a second straight loss.
The Cardinals (14-3, 5-0), who were picked to finish second in the highly competitive Big East, have been one of the nation’s hottest teams since closing 2008 with two losses in three games.
After knocking off then-No. 1 Pittsburgh 69-63 last Saturday, Louisville defeated Rutgers 78-59 on Wednesday, shooting a season-high 59.2 percent from the floor in its sixth consecutive victory.
Louisville, which boasts one of the top defenses in the Big East, limited the Scarlet Knights to 38.6 percent shooting and held them scoreless for nearly 10 minutes during one stretch. In five league contests, the Cardinals are allowing 62.4 points per game on 38.3 percent shooting.
“We’re on a roll right now, we have to keep it up and not get too bigheaded,” Louisville senior forward Terrence Williams said. “We just have to stick to our defensive schemes. Our trap is our main thing that works, we just have to stay with that.”
The Cardinals stingy defense now tries to slow down the high-powered Orange (17-3, 5-2), who are third in the Big East in scoring (80.5).
Syracuse’s potent offense never got in rhythm in Monday’s 78-60 loss to Pittsburgh, though, as it shot 41.8 percent from the floor. It had shot 54.4 percent in its previous three games.
Guard Jonny Flynn, averaging a team-high 16.1 points, struggled against the Panthers, scoring 12 points on a season-low 3-of-14 shooting.
“When you don’t play well offensively, this is what’s going to happen in this league,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.
The Orange went 1-2 during a three-game stretch against then-No. 13 Georgetown, No. 12 Notre Dame and fourth-ranked Pitt, beating only the Irish. Despite their slump, Boeheim is pleased with the efforts of his team, which was picked to finish eighth in the conference.
“I told the players, we’re 17-3 and 5-2, and that’s better than we’re supposed to be,” Boeheim said. “It’s frustrating when you lose, but you have to understand where you are.”
The Orange are 12-1 at the Carrier Dome this season, losing only to Cleveland State on a desperation shot at the buzzer. Syracuse, which routed Notre Dame 93-74 at home last Saturday, has won three straight at the Carrier Dome against ranked opponents dating back to last season.
The Orange have also won all three meetings with Louisville at the Carrier Dome.
“It’s a tough place to play,” Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said.
In their only meeting last season, Louisville defeated Syracuse 61-50 at Freedom Hall behind 12 points and seven rebounds from Williams.
The 6-foot-6 Williams had 23 points, 11 rebounds and four steals on Wednesday to continue his torrid pace. He is averaging 22.3 points on 56.5 percent shooting and 11.3 rebounds in his last three games after averaging 10.5 points on 35.0 percent shooting and 8.6 boards in his previous four outings.
The Cardinals have also been successful by getting the ball in the paint to forward Earl Clark and freshman center Samardo Samuels, who each scored 15 on Wednesday.
Clark is averaging 16.8 points and 9.6 rebounds in conference play, while Samuels is averaging 14.5 points on 59.5 percent shooting in his last four games.