Louisville had a chance to win the Big East regular-season title last season and fell just short. Having redeemed themselves by clinching their first Big East championship in 2008-09, the Cardinals have turned their attention to the conference tournament and beyond.
Fifth-ranked Louisville (25-5) looks for its eighth consecutive win Thursday afternoon when it takes on Providence, the eighth seed, in the tournament quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden.
The Cardinals earned the top seed and a double-bye into the quarters by defeating West Virginia 62-59 on Saturday night in Morgantown. Pittsburgh knocked off Connecticut on Saturday afternoon, giving Louisville the opportunity to redeem itself after falling 55-52 to Georgetown in its 2007-08 regular-season finale with the Big East title at stake.
First-team All-Big East selection Terrence Williams scored a team-high 20 points to lift the Cardinals over the Mountaineers.
“It was a very difficult environment,” said coach Rick Pitino, who’s 4-0 all-time against Providence - the program he guided to the 1987 Final Four. “We did it on someone else’s home court against a team that plays extremely well at home.”
The exhilarating victory was the Cardinals’ 17th in 19 games as they rolled into MSG. Now Pitino wants to keep his team’s focus on the big picture - as much as he’d like for Louisville to be a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.
“We want to win, we want to win another championship,” he said. “But we just spent three months to win a championship. We’re not going to beat ourselves up over three days.”
The Cardinals would like to get off to a better start Thursday than they did in their last meeting with Providence on Feb. 18. Louisville trailed the Friars by three in the second half before holding them without a field goal for more than nine minutes, and Providence committed a season-high 22 turnovers in the 94-76 loss.
“When they’re on, that’s the best team in the country when they’re on,” Friars coach Keno Davis said after the defeat. “When (Pitino) gets them going and playing hard, I don’t see how there is any better team.”
Louisville is 22nd in the nation in field-goal percentage defense at 39.5.
Providence (19-12) showed it can play defense, too, holding upset-minded DePaul without a field goal for almost eight minutes Wednesday afternoon en route to an 83-74 second-round victory. The Friars had lost five consecutive Big East tournament games dating to a 73-50 first-round win over West Virginia on March 12, 2003.
Sharaud Curry scored 25 points and Weyinmi Efejuku added 23 for Providence, which made 53.8 percent of its shots. Efejuku is averaging 25.4 points in his last five games.
Curry, Efejuku and Jonathan Kale led the Friars with 15 points apiece in the loss to then-No. 7 Louisville on Feb. 18.
Louisville junior Earl Clark had 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in last month’s win over Providence. With 12 points Thursday, Clark will become the 60th player in program history to reach 1,000 points.
Thursday’s winner will take on No. 10 Villanova or No. 21 Marquette in Friday night’s first semifinal.