Louisville appears poised to confidently move on from its latest distraction.
Hoping to build on a strong performance in their American Athletic Conference opener, the visiting No. 14 Cardinals try to continue their success over Rutgers on Saturday night.
Three days removed from a 73-66 loss at then-No. 18 Kentucky, and a day after Chane Behanan was dismissed from the team, Louisville (12-2, 1-0) shot 54.8 percent in a 90-65 win at Central Florida on Tuesday.
"One thing about life is it must go on and you must focus in on your job," coach Rick Pitino said. "There (are) so many things you have to do between the lines that you can't get affected on what happens away from the lines."
Dealing with the pressure of being the reigning national champions, the Cardinals appear to finally be free of the distraction that was Behanan.
The junior forward totaled 25 points and 21 rebounds during last season's Final Four, but missed this season's opener as part of a 26-day suspension for violating school policy. He also made headlines last month when his Final Four ring was reportedly stolen and turned up for sale on a sports memorabilia website.
Averaging 7.6 points and 6.3 boards, Behanan was dismissed after a second university policy violation this week.
"This is what we have," said guard Russ Smith, who had 24 points and went 6 of 10 from 3-point range Tuesday. "I'm trying to make that a point of emphasis to the guys that no matter what we do, we have players."
Though Behanan's departure could hinder a team with only one consistent inside scorer in 6-foot-8 Montrezl Harrell (12.2 points per game), Louisville managed to outscore UCF 38-36 in the paint despite being outrebounded 39-34.
The Cardinals scored at least 90 points in four of their seven December games and set a season high with 14 3-pointers in 27 attempts Tuesday after going 6 of 26 at Kentucky. Luke Hancock went 4 of 9 from beyond the arc while scoring a season-high 16.
Averaging team highs of 17.4 points and 5.2 assists, Smith dished out nine of Louisville's season-high 28 assists on 34 made field goals at UCF. The Cardinals matched a season low with eight assists against the rival Wildcats.
"We got a lot of guys that can play and a lot of guys that can score, so when we move it around like that, we look pretty good on offense," Hancock said.
Forward Wayne Blackshear had 19 points and the Brooklyn-raised Smith added 14 with five rebounds and four assists in last season's 68-48 win at Rutgers in the teams' final meeting as Big East members.
The Scarlet Knights (7-7, 1-0) hope a new conference will help snap a seven-game skid to Louisville that dates to a 65-56 home win Jan. 28, 2006 - their only victory in 12 all-time meetings. Since that win, Rutgers has averaged 48.3 points and shot 33.3 percent in four home games versus the Cardinals.
Rutgers opened league play Wednesday with a third straight victory, 71-66 over Temple - the only one AAC team with a worse overall record. Kadeem Jack had 18 points and Junior Etou scored the go-ahead basket with 40 seconds to play to help the Scarlet Knights win a game that featured 17 lead changes.
Guard Myles Mack averaged 21.2 points on 53.0 percent shooting in the previous five games before he went 3 of 11 to finish with 10 on Wednesday. He scored 12 versus Louisville last season.
The Scarlet Knights have dropped 13 of 14 against ranked opponents, including eight in a row since a 67-62 home win over then-No. 24 Pittsburgh one year ago Sunday.
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