Game Preview: Louisville

The gauntlet is finally here. The most anticipated and perhaps most challenging stretch of basketball games in Notre Dame history begins tonight with a 7 p.m. (EST) tip at Louisville.

Over the next month, the 13th-ranked Irish will begin a section of eight contests that begins with the 21st-ranked Cardinals, and ends with them at home on Feb. 12th. Sandwiched in between Pitino's team, is games against No. 9 Syracuse, No. 5 Connecticut, No. 15 Marquette, No. 1 Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and No. 7 UCLA.

A win over Louisville (11-3, 2-0), would mark the best start in Big East history for Notre Dame (12-3, 3-1), since joining the league.

The site of tonight's game, Freedom Hall, hasn't been kind to Notre Dame. The Irish have lost eight straight in the building, with the last victory not even coming against Louisville, but Kentucky in 1980.

Notre Dame has lost nine of ten against Louisville, who comes into its first conference home game as winners of two in a row.

Both teams have two-game winning streaks in conference play. Last week, the Irish defeated No. 10 Georgetown and Seton Hall at home, while the Cardinals won at South Florida and No. 18 Villanova.

Led by 6-foot-9 forward Earl Clark, Louisville has won three games in a row. Clark, a junior, averages a team-high 13.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Super 6-foot-8 freshman Samardo Samuels is averaging 13.6 points and 6.1 rebounds from his forward spot, and 6-foot-6 wing Terrence Williams is as complete a player as there is in the Big East, averaging 11.5 points, and team-highs, 8.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game. In the backcourt, Jerry Smith (7.3 ppg) and Edgar Sosa (6.6 ppg) will likely get the starting nod.

In the 61-60 win over Villanova, Clark had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Williams added 14 boards and 10 points, including the game-winning bucket with seven seconds remaining.

Notre Dame's 82.2 points per game leads the conference. Louisville is putting up 74.6 points per game, good for eighth in the 16-team league. Defensively, the Cardinals are tied for third, allowing just 59.8 points per game. The Irish are 13th at 67.5.

With his 30-point, 16-rebound effort against Seton Hall, Notre Dame's Luke Harangody has scored over 20 points in eight-straight games. The conference's leading scorer and rebounder has also put together a string of seven consecutive double-doubles.

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