A pedestrian first half made it look like Louisville’s undefeated start in conference play could be challenged in the team’s last game. A dominant second half, however, has the Cardinals sounding as confident as they have all season.
The seventh-ranked Cardinals look to win their ninth straight game and improve to 8-0 in the highly competitive Big East as they host West Virginia on Saturday.
Louisville (16-3, 7-0) recorded its largest margin of victory in a conference game this season with an 80-54 blowout of South Florida on Wednesday night. The Cardinals took a one-point lead into halftime before outscoring the Bulls 47-22 after intermission.
“The second half was more like we’ve been playing,” said coach Rick Pitino, whose team scored the first eight points after the break. “… We stopped taking quick shots and we ran our offense.”
The strong finish kept Louisville tied atop the Big East with Marquette. The Cardinals haven’t opened conference play with a longer winning streak since starting 8-0 in Conference USA in 2002-03.
The Cardinals, who have beaten four ranked Big East opponents, feel like they’re still improving.
“The offense is really starting to come,” reserve guard Preston Knowles said. “We feed off of our defense, but when you can hit open jumpers or throw the ball inside, it opens up for everybody. You can just see it, we’re playing together, coming together as a group.”
Pitino has noticed the improvement, but doesn’t want his team to be satisfied with the way it’s played lately.
“I think we are just practicing really well and we are more focused in on everything,” he said. “We play every game as if it is our last game. I just keep reiterating to our guys three things: stay humble, stay hungry and just play for the next game. Don’t look ahead at all.”
That advice could be particularly useful Saturday against West Virginia - Louisville’s last game before a showdown with No. 2 Connecticut on Monday night.
The Mountaineers (15-5, 4-3) aren’t one of the Big East’s seven ranked teams, but they could join that club soon if they continue their recent hot streak. They’ve won four of their last five overall, including three of four conference games in that stretch.
West Virginia followed a road win over then-No. 12 Georgetown with a home loss to fourth-ranked Pittsburgh before routing unranked St. John’s 75-52 on Wednesday night. The Mountaineers led by as many as 31 points thanks in part to Da’Sean Butler, who had 21 points and seven rebounds with five 3-pointers.
Butler, scoring a team-high 17.4 points per game, is averaging 24.0 points over his last four games while shooting 51.9 percent (14-for-27) from 3-point range.
He was held to eight points in West Virginia’s 63-54 road loss to Louisville last Jan. 10 in the most recent matchup between these programs.
Earl Clark, averaging 14.0 points and 9.0 rebounds for the Cardinals this season, had 11 points and 12 boards in 26 minutes off the bench in that game - Louisville’s fifth win in seven all-time meetings with West Virginia.