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No. 7 Louisville finishing season strong again, Memphis coach wants more from senior guards

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Houston's forward TaShawn Thomas (35) dunks on Memphis' Geron Johnson (55) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)The Associated Press

Rick Pitino has his Louisville Cardinals playing well heading into March again. Memphis coach Josh Pastner wants his senior guards to wake up from their "zombie mode."

Saturday would be good timing too.

The 21st-ranked Tigers host No. 7 Louisville just 41 hours after both teams played Thursday night. Louisville won its seventh straight game and remains tied with Cincinnati atop the American Athletic Conference. The Cardinals can split the season series with a win Saturday after Memphis won in Louisville in January.

Memphis lost 77-68 at Houston, and Pastner called out struggling senior guards Chris Crawford, Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson. The trio combined for 15 points and eight turnovers in a loss that essentially cost Memphis (21-7, 10-5) any chance at the league title.

Pastner said he warned his Tigers they were playing with fire.

"And it caught up to us," Pastner said. "I said guys, 'You have to snap out of this. This is your senior year. If I were a senior, I would be so thrilled about playing. Sometimes you walk around out there like you are in a zombie mode, and we don't need you in a zombie mode.' There is so much to play for, so be excited, thankful and enthused."

Pastner has talked all season about how much Memphis needs solid and regular production from his senior guards. He got what a season-high 19 points from Michael Dixon Jr. Johnson, who scored 24 points in an overtime loss at Connecticut, hasn't topped 12 points in the past three games. Crawford has scored in single digits himself three straight.

But Pastner was more upset that the trio also played poorly defensively.

"Bottom of line is ... if three of our four guards are going to play not well, it's going to make it tough for us," Pastner said.

The Tigers know the arena will be sold out for a game fans have been waiting for in a rematch of these old Metro Conference rivals, especially after Memphis' 73-67 win in Louisville on Jan. 9. Dixon said they have to bounce back to keep the Houston loss from hurting them even more against Louisville.

"It's good we are playing them next to get this horrible taste out of mouths, but this one was bad," Dixon said.

Pitino calls that loss to Memphis the worst of the season for his Cardinals playing poor defense. Now Louisville (24-4, 13-2) starts a two-game road swing at Memphis, then at SMU after routing Temple 88-66. Pitino said he welcomes the tough games on the road.

"It makes us mentally sharp and physically sharp," Pitino said. "We're excited about the challenge. They hurt us on the backboard and hurt us with good shooting. We know what they do, and they are very talented."

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AP freelance writers Josh Abner in Louisville, Ky., and Jeremy Rakes in Houston both contributed to this report.