No. 5 Cardinals face Western Kentucky in Nashville


No. 5 Cardinals face Western Kentucky in Nashville

Playing a rival sometimes requires going the extra mile.

With No. 5 Louisville and Western Kentucky, it means going an extra hour south.

The Cardinals and Hilltoppers resume their annual rivalry Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. The game is part of a series in which Louisville hosts two games, WKU one on campus with one in the Music City.

Louisville (10-1) has become used to playing at neutral sites this season. The Cardinals played three games last month at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, losing to Duke in the championship game.

Saturday also marks the Cardinals' second trip to Tennessee in a week. They beat rival Memphis last Saturday.

Western Kentucky (8-4) leads the series 39-36, including 5-2 on neutral courts. Which is exactly why Louisville coach Rick Pitino likes this game.

``With the exception of one time, Western Kentucky always plays us tough,'' Pitino said Friday. ``They played us tough at home last year, beat us once at home and we know it's going to be a great basketball game. And we look forward to progressing from the last game we played against FIU.''

Pitino said he was encouraged by Louisville's play in the 79-55 victory over a Florida International team coached by his son Richard. The Cardinals outshot the Panthers 49 percent to 33 percent, scored 25 points off 14 turnovers and were solid from 3-point range (12 of 32) in winning their fifth straight game.

Sophomore forwards Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan combined for 32 points and 19 rebounds, providing another nice effort while center Gorgui Dieng continues recovering from a broken left wrist. Although the 6-foot-11 junior has dressed the past few games and has been working out with the Cardinals, Pitino still doesn't expect him back until January.

``If he's able to play, he'll play,'' senior point guard Peyton Siva said about Dieng. ``Right now, we're not trying to rush him back. We need him more for the end of the season than right now.''

Dieng's absence has provided minutes for 6-foot-8 freshman Montrezl Harrell, who had seven points and five rebounds in 20 minutes Wednesday night. Though more suited for power forward, he has gotten a good dose of life in the pivot and Pitino believes that will help him even after Dieng returns.

Louisville faces a WKU squad that has lost two in a row since a six-game winning streak. However, those Hilltoppers' losses were at rival Murray State and Virginia Commonwealth, both of which reached the NCAA tournament last season.

And Western Kentucky's win total is way ahead of last season's pace. The Hilltoppers didn't win their eighth game until Feb. 4.

They've improved in several areas under second-year coach Ray Harper. Besides winning 15 of 20 games dating back to last season, the Hilltoppers have raised their scoring average eight points from a year ago to 68.2 and are grabbing four more rebounds per game (40.3).

Sophomore guard T.J. Price (16.9 points) leads WKU's offense.

The Hilltoppers are also 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference. But the number that the Cardinals should be wary of is WKU's 2-1 mark in Nashville, including a 68-54 win in 2008 over a Louisville team ranked third at the time.

Louisville won last year's game 70-60 at home but had to overcome a 13-point deficit with eight minutes left. That's enough to keep the Cardinals' attention on this in-state rival rather than on another one down the road next Saturday.

Especially since WKU has been strong against Louisville on neutral ground.

``This is a rivalry game,'' Pitino said. ``We consider them a rival and we hope they consider us a rival. We've got great respect for their tradition and their program, so we know how hard they're going to play. They weren't nearly as good as us last year, and it was anybody's game.''

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Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

As if they needed a reminder, the Wizards saw firsthand on Wednesday night just how much can change in a short period of time in the Eastern Conference playoff race where just two games separate the No. 3 and No. 6 teams.

That No. 6 team is now your Washington Wizards, who began the day in fourth place but lost their first game in four days on the same night both the Cavs and Sixers won theirs. 

The Wizards lost to the Spurs on Wednesday and managed only 90 points, their fewest since Jan. 22. It was a lackluster performance in a game the Wizards needed to treat with urgency. 


The Spurs sure did.

"We've gotta have a better mentality coming into games," guard Bradley Beal said. "The Spurs were fighting for playoff seeding just like we were."

The Wizards have now lost six of their last 10, yet all those games have come against teams currently holding playoff spots. Considering John Wall reamins out with a left knee injury, it's hard to fault them too much when they are staying afloat just fine in the big picture.

The problem is that the closer they get to the end of the season, the more these losses are magnified. They amount to missed opportunities, some bigger than others.

That was not lost on Beal, who considered the alternative. If the Wizards had beaten the Spurs, they would be sitting in fourth, two spots higher, and just a game-and-a-half out of third.

"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal lamented.


The Wizards are in a high stakes part of the standings where plenty is in the balance. They are fighting for home court advantage, something they would get in the third or fourth spots. And who they match up with will be paramount.

By falling to sixth, the Wizards are currently in line to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers and Sixers are also good teams, they don't have LeBron James. Avoiding him and the Cavs would be ideal for the Wizards.

Beal has even bigger worries than that. He noted after the loss in San Antonio that they could fall even further if they aren't careful. They are now just a game-and-a-half up on the seventh-place Heat. 

"We've gotta realize what's at stake, man. The way we're going, we could keep dropping and mess around and be eighth. We've gotta do whatever it takes to win," he said.

The Wizards should be fine, if the previous two months are any indication. But Wednesday night was another example of how precarious things are for them this season in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference.


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Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread


Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Detroit Red Wings

Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Mich.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Red Wings will be broadcast on NBCSN.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (42-24-7) take on the Red Wings (27-35-11) Thursday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Detroit.


The Capitals-Red Wings game will be broadcast on NBCSN. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Check back with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Red Wings (on NBCSN)
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime


Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Red Wings game:

Alex Ovechkin -  Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Travis Boyd - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Philipp Grubauer starts with Braden Holtby as backup

Scratches: Evgeny Kuznetsov (upper body injury), Alex Chiasson, Jakub Jerabek


You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.