A loss to its archrival sent Louisville into American Athletic Conference play with an idea of what it needs to do better to compete for a league title. Much of that was further complicated Monday when the program announced the dismissal of Chane Behanan.
The 14th-ranked Cardinals will be under the spotlight Tuesday at Central Florida in the conference's inaugural game on the final day of a year that peaked with a national title and ends with uncertainty.
Losing the 6-foot-6 Behanan, the team's second-leading rebounder with 6.3 per game, hits the program in a particularly vulnerable area after spending Saturday's postgame discussing rebounding issues that were exposed in a 73-66 road loss to Kentucky.
Coach Rick Pitino didn't specify the exact violation of university policy by the junior forward, a repeat offender who was recently reinstated after a 26-day suspension.
"Away from the lines he just did not do the right things," Pitino said. "... It sets our basketball team back immensely."
Behanan was averaging 7.6 points off the bench despite going scoreless Saturday but did grab a team-high seven boards for Louisville (11-2), which was outrebounded 44-36 and outscored 42-24 in the paint. The Cardinals allowed 17 offensive rebounds for the second straight game.
"Our front court, it's obvious from the North Carolina (loss) as well as the Kentucky game is the weak part of our basketball team right now," Pitino said. "Now, we have to jump up on the fly and play a very good Central Florida team on the road that presents a lot of problems up front. They are a team that shoots the 3 great.
"Rebounding has been a problem for us from the beginning of the year, anyway. Now you're going to have to try to play a freshman, (Akoy) Agau. ... A lot of things we have to do, but we have no time to do it right now. We have to do it on the fly."
Starting forwards Mangok Mathiang, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell combined for only 15 points and 10 rebounds against the Wildcats. Harrell alone is averaging 12.0 points and 8.0 boards for the season.
"As far as a team, there will be some guys that will hang their head," Harrell said. "There is nothing you can do about it. You can't change the outcome of this game. We just need to prepare for our next game."
Louisville leading scorer Russ Smith had a game-high 19 points, but it took a 7-of-20 day from the field and 5-of-10 mark from the foul line to get there.
The Cardinals have dropped both games they've played against ranked opponents.
UCF (8-3), meanwhile, has hosted just three Top 25 teams in the program's history. That number is certain to jump as they move from Conference USA to the newly formed AAC.
The Knights have won five straight but have been off since a 90-62 home win over Valparaiso on Dec. 22 in the Jackson Hewitt Holiday Classic finals, avenging a road loss to the Crusaders from Nov. 26.
"That's our best 40 minutes of the season against a really good team," coach Donnie Jones said. "We made a lot of shots and when you do that, the rest of the game comes pretty easy, but we also played really good defense. I thought everybody who played contributed something and you'd like to see that every night."
The Knights have hit at least 11 3-pointers in their last four games while making half of their attempts, including 11 for 19 on Saturday.
Tristan Spurlock went 4 of 5 from beyond the arc on his way to a game-high 22 points, surpassing 20 for the third time during UCF's five-game win streak.
The Cardinals won the only other meeting between the schools, 78-58 in Louisville on Dec. 15, 1999.
- Sports & Recreation