The Louisville Cardinals aren’t worried about who starts the game. They’re just concerned about how the game ends.
On Wednesday night, no matter which starting lineup coach Rick Pitino puts on the floor, the 18th-ranked Cardinals will look to close out 2008 with their fifth straight victory over UNLV, which has won six in a row.
Louisville (8-2) returns to Freedom Hall following Saturday’s 82-62 win over UAB. With a retooled lineup that had junior Earl Clark coming off the bench for the first time in 2008-09 and senior guard Andre McGee out of the starting lineup in favor of sophomore Preston Knowles, the Cardinals rebounded from a 70-64 loss to Minnesota on Dec. 20.
Starting for Clark, freshman Jared Swopshire had eight points and four rebounds in 14 minutes. Knowles added eight points and five boards in 20 minutes.
“I think we’ll stay with it,” said Pitino, 1-0 in his career versus UNLV - a 68-48 win on Nov. 21, 2007.
That’s fine with Clark. The junior forward had 12 points and four boards in 26 minutes off the bench against UAB. Clark is averaging 17.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in his last three games.
“This is nothing new to me,” said Clark, who had 16 points, 13 rebounds and four assists in last season’s win against the Runnin’ Rebels. “I can be a spark off the bench. When I came in (before the game), he has the (starters’) names up on the board and mine wasn’t in there. It wasn’t a shock.”
Freshman Samardo Samuels continued his strong play on Saturday with 17 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double. He is averaging a team-best 15.2 points with 7.0 rebounds per game.
Senior Terrence Williams came close to a triple-double against UAB with 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Last season against UNLV, Williams had nine points, five boards and six assists.
Led by Samuels and Williams, Louisville outrebounded the Blazers 40-26. The Cardinals are tied for 12th in the nation with 42.3 rebounds per game.
UNLV, meanwhile, grabbed a season-low 27 boards in its last game - a 73-60 win over Southern Utah on Dec. 23. The Runnin’ Rebels are averaging 35.2 rebounds.
While the Cardinals look for an 8-0 home record this season, UNLV will go for its first seven-game winning streak since taking nine straight from Feb. 17-March 18, 2007.
Against Southern Utah, senior guard Rene Rougeau, who missed 6-of-7 shots in last season’s loss to then-No. 6 Louisville, hit 7-of-8 from the field and scored 16 points as UNLV hit 54.2 percent from the floor.
The Runnin’ Rebels, though, are shooting just 45.5 percent during their winning streak. They could face a tough task on Wednesday as Louisville is holding opponents to 36.9 percent shooting - 13th in the nation.
The Runnin’ Rebels shot just 25.0 percent from the floor in last season’s home loss to the Cardinals.
UNLV also could be without their leading scorer on Wednesday. Senior Wink Adams, who is averaging 14.1 points, is a game-time decision after straining his lower abdominal muscle against Southern Utah.
Adams went scoreless in 10 minutes against the Thunderbirds, but averaged 19.7 points in his previous three games.
Louisville has won five of eight meetings with UNLV.