Louisville’s rise to the Top 25 was somewhat of a surprise. Another letdown could see the Cardinals exit the poll in much more stunning fashion.
The 20th-ranked Cardinals will try to rebound from a poor effort in their first defeat of the season when they face Gardner-Webb for the first time Saturday.
Entering the season with a young team, Louisville (8-1) was picked to finish 10th in the 16-team Big East and coach Rick Pitino claimed this was a “bridge year.” He also installed a new up-tempo style to capitalize on the Cardinals’ speed in order to create turnovers.
That strategy got them off to their best start since 1996 while also entering the Top 25.
The Cardinals proved they belonged among the nation’s elite by beating then-No. 20 UNLV 77-59 last Saturday. However, they followed with a major letdown in a lackluster 52-46 loss to Drexel on Tuesday, making 1 of 12 field goals over the final 8:30.
“When you don’t get out on the break and don’t rebound and do the little things that help you score (you lose),” Pitino said. “They deserve the victory and we didn’t.
“We didn’t rebound. That tells the story, 46-26, a very simple stat.”
Another loss would likely knock Louisville from the rankings as it concludes a season-opening 10-game stretch at the new KFC Yum! Center.
“I don’t judge anything after nine games,” Pitino said. “With this basketball team right now, it’s so inexperienced. I’m trying to build something special. You can’t get bent out of shape with a loss.”
Pitino’s system has the Cardinals forcing an average of 19.1 turnovers after the Dragons committed 22. However, they’ll need to regain their shooting touch after making a season-low 31.9 percent from the field while hitting 12 of 25 from the free-throw line Tuesday.
Preston Knowles, the only senior on Louisville, leads the team with 12.4 points per game. The guard had 13 on Tuesday after scoring a season-high 20 against the Runnin’ Rebels.
Mike Marra has struggled over the last three games, totaling five points while making 1 of 21 shots. The sophomore guard had been averaging 13.0 points over the previous six contests.
Gardner-Webb (6-7) is trying to conclude a stretch of 10 consecutive games away from home by ending a five-game slide against ranked opponents dating to an 84-68 victory over then-No. 20 Kentucky on Nov. 7, 2007.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs, 3-6 over the last nine, will have to do it without Jonathan Moore, their top scorer with 15.5 points per game. The senior swingman is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury suffered during last Saturday’s 71-48 defeat at Arizona State.
“Anyone who has followed us this season knows Jon’s significant value to our team, but I am most disappointed for Jon because this is his senior season and he was off to a terrific start,” first-year coach Chris Holtmann said.
With Moore out, guard Luke Davis will likely return to the lineup after coming off the bench for the first time last weekend. The freshman, averaging 8.1 points, made 1 of 7 shots while missing all three 3-point attempts to finish with four points.