The last time Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino faced Georgetown, he pulled off one of the finest coaching performances of his career, leading sixth-seeded Providence to an 88-73 upset over the top-seeded Hoyas in the Elite Eight of the 1987 NCAA tournament.

Though the stakes will not be quite as high this time around, Pitino will once again need an excellent game plan in order to take down a Georgetown team that has won its last five games and 12 of its last 14.

Wednesday night’s matchup at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky., marks the start of a critical three-game stretch for the Hoyas, who still have a legitimate shot at claiming the Big East regular season title. Following the Louisville game, No. 22 Georgetown (16-5, 6-2 Big East) will return to Verizon Center to play No. 11 Marquette on Saturday and West Virginia on Monday.

“February is very important because you get to the middle and latter part of the Big East schedule,” Georgetown junior guard Jonathan Wallace said. “You start facing tougher teams, and that is when teams start to mature and grow as the season goes on. You know the games become a lot more important and also it is going right into tournament play.”

Wednesday’s contest will be the first Big East conference game between Georgetown and Louisville, who did not play each other last season. Prior to last year, the Cardinals played in Conference USA.

Louisville (16-7, 6-3), picked to finish sixth in the Big East preseason coaches poll, has exceeded expectations so far this season despite its relatively young roster. Nine of the Cardinals’ 12 scholarship players are either freshmen or sophomores, including starting guards Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith, who are both freshmen.

Louisville and Georgetown have had somewhat similar seasons thus far. After a number of disappointing early-season losses, both teams played well in late December and January. The Cardinals enter Wednesday’s game having won 11 of their last 14 games, though they fell 57-53 in their most recent game at Villanova on Saturday.

Both Louisville and Georgetown play solid defense – both squads are undefeated in games in which they have scored at least 70 points this season. Georgetown has never lost in regulation under Head Coach John Thompson III while scoring 70 or more. The two teams’ offensive statistics, however, look nothing alike. While the Hoyas lead the Big East in field goal percentage at 52.4 percent, the Cardinals shoot a measly 42.1 percent from the field – 13th-best in the conference. Georgetown’s three-point shooting is also significantly more accurate than Louisville’s, as the Hoyas rank third in the Big East in three-point percentage, while the Cardinals rank 12th.

Despite the fact that the Cardinals shoot only 32.9 percent from beyond the arc, they do not hesitate to fire away from long range. A prime example is their leading scorer and rebounder, sophomore forward Terrence Williams, who shoots a poor 26.6 percent from three-point land but has launched an astounding 139 three-point attempts this season.

Smith is Louisville’s best three-point shooter and ninth-best in the Big East, hitting 44.6 percent of his attempts from long range. Georgetown counters with Wallace, who leads the Big East with a 48.8 percent, three-point percentage, and junior forward Jeff Green, who is 11th in the conference at 43.4 percent.

One of Wednesday night’s most intriguing storylines will be the battle of the big men. Georgetown junior center Roy Hibbert, who leads the Big East in field-goal percentage at 69.9 percent, will take on Louisville junior center David Padgett, who shoots 60.2 percent from the field – fifth-best in the conference.

Padgett, who is 6-foot-11, will try not to get into foul trouble early because the Cardinals do not have an attractive second option to guard the 7-foot-2 Hibbert. Sophomore center Jonathan Huffman is 7-foot and junior center Terrance Farley is 6-foot-10, but both players average less than seven minutes per game.

Although the numbers favor Georgetown, Louisville has played very well on its home court under Pitino. The Cardinals are 13-3 at Freedom Hall this season and 92-15 since Pitino took over the program in 2001.

In addition to the hostile crowd, Georgetown will probably have to deal with an aggressive full-court press. Although the Hoyas have done a nice job of bringing the ball down the court recently, they struggled against the Villanova press in their 56-52 loss to the Wildcats, committing 21 turnovers in the game.

Green’s play will be important for Georgetown. He averaged 20 points in the last three games, and if he continues to be aggressive on the offensive end on Wednesday night, the Hoyas will likely come away with a victory. Georgetown is 13-1 this season in games in which Green has scored at least 10 points. The one loss came when Green scored 15 points at No. 7 Pittsburgh.

Although the Hoyas have won five games in a row, all of the victories have been against teams in the Big East’s bottom tier. Wednesday night’s game figures to be much more challenging and might result in Georgetown’s first win by a single-digit margin this season.

No matter what the final score is, the Hoyas will be happy to leave Kentucky with a victory. If Georgetown wins, it will have a chance to play Marquette for sole possession of second place in the Big East on Saturday.

Wednesday night’s tip-off is set for 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.

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