Louisville-Syracuse Preview

The Associated Press

Syracuse already knocked Louisville out of its perch atop the AP poll six weeks ago.

Beating the Cardinals again may end their Big East title hopes and possibly boost the Orange's

No. 12 Syracuse looks to re-establish its home dominance by beating 10th-ranked Louisville for the fourth time in a row on Saturday.

The Orange (22-6, 10-5) handed the Cardinals (23-5, 11-4) their only home loss of the season, 70-68 on Jan. 19. It also dropped Louisville out of the top spot in the Top 25 and triggered a season-high three-game skid.

With three games left in the regular season, this matchup at the Carrier Dome - also the final game the teams will meet as Big East rivals - will have major implications on the conference race. Syracuse is headed to the ACC next season, and Louisville will follow in 2014.

For now, both are still vying for the Big East title, and the Cardinals are tied with No. 22 Marquette for second place, one game back of Georgetown and one ahead of the Orange and No. 21 Notre Dame for fourth.

The race could become even tighter with the Fighting Irish visiting the Golden Eagles later in the day, while the Hoyas host Rutgers in the evening.

Syracuse's chances would seem to be boosted by playing its next two at before concluding the regular season at Georgetown next Saturday. However, the Orange fell 74-71 at Marquette on Monday, two days after losing 57-46 to the Hoyas as their 38-game home winning streak came to an end.

Brandon Triche totaled 18 points in those defeats, but he averages a team-leading 14.5. The senior guard had 23 at Louisville six weeks ago.

"I guess we spoil everybody with winning all the time, so when you lose a few games it's the end of the world," Triche said. "I think we have to be tougher just as a team in general, not get pushed around, just making the tough plays, the game-winning plays."

C.J. Fair led the way with 20 points against Marquette. The junior forward is averaging 17.7 points on 61.3 percent shooting over the past three games.

"He understands the game. He's in the right places. He knows where he should be," coach Jim Boeheim said. "He's got a very economical game. He's a very efficient player. He knows exactly what he has to do and he gets it done. He gets better all the time."

Louisville has won seven of eight since that three-game slide. The team has been particularly impressive during a three-game winning streak, limiting opponents to an average of 54.5 points and 35.5 percent from the field - 28.6 from behind the arc.

The Cardinals continued that stifling defensive play in Wednesday's 79-58 romp at DePaul, holding the Blue Demons to 35.9 percent shooting and 1 of 9 from long range.

Coach Rick Pitino feels consistency and disciplined play from Russ Smith can keep Louisville rolling.

"When Russ Smith passes the basketball, we have a big-time chance of being a great team," Pitino said. "When he doesn't and he gambles on defense, we're just a mediocre team. But if we can get him to totally buy in offensively and defensively, we have the makings of a great team."

Smith leads the Cardinals with 18.4 points per game, and certainly did his part offensively by scoring 25 against the Orange two months ago. However, the junior guard turned the ball over nine times over the last three games, and had four on Wednesday while getting 17 points and five assists.

"I can pass. I know I can," Smith said. "I just have to make the right decision - whether it is shoot or look for the open guy when I'm driving."

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