An undefeated January put Louisville back on track, but the Cardinals opened February with a subpar shooting performance against the nation’s top team and their first conference loss. Playing one of the Big East’s weaker clubs could help them rebound.
Fifth-ranked Louisville, though, could also face a surprisingly stiff challenge Sunday in New York, where St. John’s has already upset one ranked opponent this season and has defeated the Cardinals three straight times.
The Cardinals (17-4, 8-1) have had six days to shake off Monday’s 68-51 home loss to No. 1 Connecticut, and might have needed all that time to recover from shooting 34.4 percent from the field (22-for-64). Louisville saw its nine-game overall winning streak snapped while allowing the Huskies to make 47.1 percent (24-for-51) of their shots.
“Every time one of them has an off-night offensively, it affects other parts of their game,” Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said. “They’re not mature enough to understand and give credit to the other’s team defense and not let it affect them in playing the other facets of the game.”
Among Louisville’s starters, Earl Clark finished 2 of 16 from the field, and Edgar Sosa went 2-for-7. Samardo Samuels, who is shooting a team-best 55.8 percent, and Jerry Smith were both 0-for-2. While the rest of the starting lineup struggled, Terrence Williams set a career high with 26 points and shot 11-for-19 to continue his strong play in conference.
Williams is averaging 15.0 points and 9.6 rebounds against Big East opponents, while shooting 50.9 percent from the field in those nine games. The senior guard, who ranks 25th on Louisville’s career scoring list, needs 16 points to reach 1,400 for his career.
Though Pitino coached the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden from 1987-89, his Cardinals lost their only visit there during his tenure, 68-56 on Jan. 17, 2006.
St. John’s has already shown it can stun top-caliber competition at home this season, upsetting then-No. 7 Notre Dame 71-65 at MSG on Jan. 3. The Red Storm (12-10, 3-7) have also won their last two home contests.
However, they are 3-9 overall since winning nine of their first 10 games. The return of starters Justin Burrell and Malik Boothe in a 65-48 win over South Florida on Feb. 1 at Carnesecca Arena didn’t carry over into Thursday’s 91-81 defeat at Seton Hall.
Burrell, who missed two games with three hairline fractures to his face, has totaled 21 points in his two games since returning. After sitting out nine games with an injured thumb, Boothe has averaged 6.5 points in the last two.
Sophomore Paris Horne, whose 14.7 scoring average leads St. John’s, scored a team-best 21 in Thursday’s loss. He’s averaging 20.6 points and shooting 60.9 percent in the last five games.
Louisville leads the all-time series between these schools 6-3.