by Tomas Lopez
Louisville may be one game out of first place, but has to like where it stands entering the final week of the regular season. The Louisville Cardinals will play the first of two straight home games to close out their schedule on Monday against Cincinnati. Louisville, winners of five in a row and eight of its last nine, hasn’t lost since its five-overtime setback against Notre Dame on Feb. 9, defeating four of its opponents over that span by at least 14 points.
The Cardinals – 13-1 at home this season – are coming off a 58-53 road victory over Syracuse on Saturday, but will be playing for the third time in six days when they host the Cincinnati Bearcats. Cincinnati halted a three-game skid with a 61-56 win over Connecticut, but finds itself in a three-way tie for ninth place with Providence and St. John’s. The Bearcats could strengthen their NCAA Tournament resume with a win, but a loss could damage their hopes of securing a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament.
Cincinnati Bearcats (19-9, 7-8 Big East): Sean Kilpatrick – the fourth-leading scorer in the conference – has led the team in scoring in nine of the last 11 contests. The junior guard has made a team-high 75 3-pointers and is shooting 80.4 percent from the foul line during the stretch. Taking advantage of a Connecticut team without Shabazz Napier, the Bearcats outscored the Huskies 21-1 in points off turnovers Saturday. Since Cashmere Wright missed his only game of the season on Jan. 19 with a knee sprain, he is shooting 22.9 percent - including 19.7 percent beyond the arc. Over that 10-game stretch, Wright has shot over 30 percent from the field three times.
Louisville Cardinals (24-5, 12-4): During their winning streak, the Cardinals have limited their opponents to 35.5 percent shooting from the field and 54.2 points. For the season, Louisville has held 18 teams to less than 40 percent shooting and 18 to fewer than 60 points. The Cardinals are third nationally in turnover margin (plus-6.0) and have forced an average of 18.7 turnovers, scoring 661 of their 2,140 points off opponents’ miscues. Gorgui Dieng posted his 10th double-digit rebounding performance with 14 boards against the Orange, surpassing 700 career rebounds in the process. Peyton Siva needs seven steals to match Darrell Griffith’s school record of 230.
1. This is the first meeting between the schools since last season’s Big East Championship title game.
2. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino needs one more win to notch his 300th victory at Louisville.
3. Cincinnati is limiting opponents to 11.2 points below their season average.
NCAA Basketball Prediction: Louisville 63, Cincinnati 55.
cashmere wright - cincinnati bearcats - darrell griffith - gorgui dieng - louisville cardinals - peyton siva - rick pitino - sean kilpatrick - shabazz napier