Old rivals Memphis, No. 6 Louisville meet again

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

briefly.

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

season ranked.

”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

corporations.”

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

different.

”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

bests.

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,”

Siva said.

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

from it.