Playing at neutral sites hasn’t been a strength of Louisville. At least not until its last time out.
The ninth-ranked Cardinals look to build off their first regular-season win on a neutral court in over a year when they face undefeated Minnesota on Saturday afternoon in the Stadium Shootout in Glendale, Ariz.
Louisville (7-1) won its fifth straight on Thursday, 77-68 over Mississippi in the SEC/Big East Invitational at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati.
Junior Earl Clark posted career highs of 25 points and 16 rebounds as Louisville won for just the second time in its last seven regular-season games on a neutral court. Its last regular-season victory at a neutral site was 64-53 over Old Dominion on Nov. 24, 2007, at the Las Vegas Invitational.
“It was an easy game that we could have lost,” Clark said. “We could have hung our heads and started pointing the finger and not be intense. But we stuck with it and played defense and got stops at the end of the game.”
The Cardinals limited Mississippi to just one field goal in the last 7:31 after DeAundre Cranston’s tip-in gave the Rebels a 63-62 lead after trailing by 18 in the first half.
“We made some smart plays down the stretch,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who led Kentucky from 1989-97, preceding Minnesota coach Tubby Smith.
Pitino has won six of 10 against Smith in his career.
“Tubby’s a great guy, a great person and he’s great for our sport because he has integrity,” Pitino said. “His kids are very lucky to play for him.”
Louisville is ranked 10th in the nation in field goal defense at 35.6 percent. Minnesota (9-0), though, is shooting 52.1 percent in its last five games.
Freshman center Samardo Samuels, who leads the Cardinals with 16.0 points per game, had his worst shooting game of the season, missing 11 of 13 from the field against Mississippi. He had nine points and a season-high 13 boards as Louisville outrebounded the Rebels 56-43.
It was the Cardinals’ most rebounds in a game since grabbing 58 in an 85-51 win over North Carolina A&T on Dec. 14, 2004.
Louisville ranks seventh in the nation in rebounding, averaging 43.4. The Golden Gophers pull down 37.0 boards per game - tied for 117th in Division I.
Senior forward Terrence Williams scored seven points with 11 rebounds and four assists versus Mississippi. Williams, who leads the Cardinals with 4.8 assists per game, needs two on Saturday to reach 400 in his career.
While Louisville looks for back-to-back neutral-site wins, the Golden Gophers will go for their first 10-0 start since opening the 1976-77 season with 11 consecutive victories.
Minnesota is coming off a 74-60 win over South Dakota State on Dec. 10 as junior Damian Johnson posted a career-best 21 points with six boards and a career-high five blocks.
“I thought Damian came to the rescue offensively. We know what he does defensively,” Smith told the school’s official Web site. “He did some great things.”
So did Al Nolen. The sophomore guard had eight points and a career-high 11 assists against the Jackrabbits as Minnesota posted a season-high 24 assists. Louisville, meanwhile, averages 19.8 assists - fifth in the nation.
Minnesota also had 10 steals and forced 20 turnovers against South Dakota State.
The Golden Gophers have won two of three in the series against Louisville.
This will be the first basketball game played at the University of Phoenix Stadium.