Saturday will seem like old times when No. 6 Louisville travels
to face Memphis.
The game could also offer a look into the future, albeit
The former Conference USA rivals will be meeting for the 87th
time but this one has the feel of a Big East Conference game.
That’s because Memphis is scheduled to join Louisville in the
league next season.
For schools very familiar with each other, that makes their
rivalry more intriguing even if Louisville has already announced it
will be leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
For the Cardinals (8-1), this is another test in a season that
has seen them play Northern Iowa, Missouri and Duke. That Memphis
reminds Louisville coach Rick Pitino of his own squad makes it that
much more important, especially since the Tigers (6-3) began the
”It’s probably not, in our minds, as the big as the Kentucky
rivalry but to a lot of the fans it’s just as important as that
game,” Cardinals point guard Peyton Siva said. ”We’re just going
in here with the mindset that it’s a top-ranked opponent.
”Memphis is always good, every year. We grew up watching them
with the Derrick Roses and everything.”
Pitino’s only regret is that Memphis and Louisville won’t be
conference rivals for long. He was a vocal advocate for adding
Memphis to the Big East. While he’s excited for Louisville’s
opportunity in the ACC he’s disturbed by the tradition lost in the
changing landscape of college athletics and what it has meant for
schools like Memphis to be left in limbo.
”I pushed very hard for Memphis to get in the Big East,”
Pitino said. ”I feel bad that they were looking so forward to it
and now it’s falling apart.
”It’s sad but we are corporations today. That’s what it’s all
about. We are corporations and we’re being taken over by bigger
Pitino is more concerned though with the health of his team.
Louisville is already without center Gorgui Dieng, who broke his
left wrist in last month’s Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
Other players are hurting as well, causing Pitino to be more
cautious in practice.
”I’m trying to hold this thing together right now and it hasn’t
been easy because we are a little banged up,” he said.
Siva said recent practices have been a bit shorter with less
work on the team’s signature press defense. The Cardinals have
worked through injuries throughout his four years he said and
Saturday’s test against a physical opponent would be no
”I just think it’s basically another Big East game,” Siva
said. ”We’ve played a lot of tough opponents in the Big East and
we’ve dealt with it before.”
Siva, the Big East’s preseason player of the year, has gotten a
boost this year from backcourtmate Russ Smith. Smith’s 24 points
and seven steals last year against the Tigers were both career
He set a career high with 31 points in Louisville’s last outing,
a 99-47 win over Missouri Kansas City, and is averaging 20.3 points
a game this season.
”It’s a lot easier this year with him being able to attack,
teams have to focus on him without the focus being just on me,”
Louisville’s offense has been sparked mainly by its defense. The
Cardinals are forcing more than 22 turnovers a game and lead the
nation in turnover margin at plus-9.2. Louisville has scored 35
percent of its points off turnovers and Smith (3.2 steals per game,
fifth nationally) and Siva (2.7, third in Big East) are among the
nation’s top takeaway artists.
”Let’s face it, when you’re a big steal team you’re going to
get a lot of layups,” Pitino said. ”There’s no better fast break
than a steal.”
Last year’s matchup was the first since the 2005 Conference USA
tournament championship game that saw Memphis guard Darius
Washington Jr. collapse to the court after missing two of three
free throws that would have won the game.
Siva said his Louisville teammates don’t know much about the
long history between the schools but they do respect how much the
game means to both cities.
Especially since both schools could learn a lot about themselves