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Louisville tops Villanova, forces title matchup with Georgetown

Mar 3, 2008 - 2:32 AM LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Ticker) -- Louisville continued its bid for a league title while complicating Villanova's hopes for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Juan Palacios scored 13 points and Jerry Smith added 10 as No. 18 Louisville continued its last-season charge with a 68-54 victory over Villanova in the Big East Conference on Sunday.

Terrence Williams and Andre McGee added nine points apiece for the Cardinals (24-6, 14-3 Big East), who won for the ninth straight time to pull back even with Georgetown atop the league standings.

"I am delighted where we are right now," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "I think we can play any style, which if very important. We can play slow we can play fast, we can play man, we can play zone, we can attack zone, we can attack man. I think our non-conference schedule and the Big East being a corporation that it is (has helped). You see so many teams and you see so many styles."

"They are as good as anybody," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We haven't played some of the better teams in a while, but we did just play Marquette and UConn. They are as good as anyone. I was very impressed."

In a showdown that will decide the regular-season winner, Louisville will travel to Georgetown on Saturday.

"I don't think it is significant either way," Pitino said about the layoff that both teams have before the matchup. "They have six days to prepare we have five days to prepare. It works out for both of us real well. I don't like a long time off. We are not going to take off tomorrow; we are going to take off Wednesday to try to break the week up."

While the Cardinals have been soaring, the Wildcats (17-11, 7-9) are stumbling, losing for the second straight time to fall into a tie with Seton Hall and Syracuse for the ninth spot in the conference.

Prior to the slide, Villanova had been considered a bubble team for the NCAAs.

Although the Wildcats held a 15-11 lead 7 1/2 minutes into the contest, the Cardinals took charge with a 17-3 run. Williams scored the final four points of the burst, including two free throws for a 28-18 advantage with 5:06 left.

Louisville held a 35-24 lead at the half and led by as many as 18 points with just over six minutes left in the contest.

Palacios finished 5-of-8 from the field with three 3-pointers and Smith grabbed 10 rebounds.

One of three seniors honored before the game along with Palacios and Terrance Farley, David Padgett finished with six points and four rebounds.

Freshman Malcolm Grant led Villanova with 11 points off the bench.

Scottie Reynolds, the Wildcats' leading scorer, was held to a season low-tying four points on 1-of-6 shooting.

"Their guards do a great job of guarding in pressuring the ball in the backcourt and not getting beat," Wright said. "Usually when you open the floor up, to guard, you are going to get beat sometimes. They really keep people in front of them. McGee, Smith and (Edgar) Sosa are outstanding on the ball as defenders, Scottie couldn't get by them."

Reynolds, who had scored in double figures in 12 of his previous 14 games, did not start, as he and freshman Corey Fisher were penalized for a minor rules infraction.

"Scottie and Corey are roommates and they overslept and they came five minutes late for the bus," Wright said. "We have a young team and we have to get them mature. Not a big deal, they aren't in any trouble but it is something we have to maintain within our program."