Louisiana-Lafayette-Louisville Preview

The Associated Press

While always looking to improve, Louisville has bounced back nicely from its first defeat.

The seventh-ranked Cardinals hope to keep progressing while trying for a 25th consecutive non-conference home victory Saturday against Louisiana.

Since falling 93-84 to then-No. 24 North Carolina in the finals of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off on Nov. 24, Louisville (7-1) has won two in a row while outscoring Southern Mississippi and Missouri-Kansas City by a combined 59 points.

During Wednesday's 90-62 win over a UMKC team coached by former Louisville assistant Kareem Richardson, the Cardinals made 10 3-pointers, forced 20 turnovers and outrebounded the Kangaroos 49-29.

"That Louisville team, they're going to be good - not going - they are very good," said Richardson, who spent last season alongside Rick Pitino during the Cardinals' national championship run. "Despite what coach may think and that (North) Carolina loss, they have enough talent, enough depth, to really make a run at it again.

"I know a lot of things got to go the right way, but they're certainly good."

With the guard tandem of Russ Smith (17.8 points per game) and Chris Jones (14.4) and last year's NCAA tournament stars Luke Hancock and Chane Behanan providing experience off the bench, the Cardinals are talented but still trying to find their form.

Louisville is shooting 40.5 percent from the field in the last four games after making 49.4 in the first four. However, aside from the Tar Heels' 54.2 percent shooting performance, no other opponent has shot better than 46.0 or scored more than 69 points against the Cardinals.

Behanan, who dealt with some off-court distractions before and during the season, took a step in the right direction with 11 points and 11 rebounds against UMKC.

The Cardinals also are trying to forge their own identity and move on from last season's accomplishments.

"Sometimes, you don't look at what we're doing because everybody's so focused on last year, which is where we need to get to because we were so successful," said Smith, who has 17 assists in the last two games. "It's going to take some time. It's a tough, empty space to fill, but I think we'll get there."

Louisville would appear to be in good shape to make some strides against Louisiana (6-2), which is riding a four-game winning streak but has lost all eight meetings in this series. The Ragin' Cajuns held Louisville to 42.0 percent shooting but were outrebounded 48-30 during an 84-69 loss Dec. 23, 2009, in the most recent meeting.

The Cardinals have won 24 straight non-conference home games by an average of 22.8 points since a 78-63 loss to No. 11 Kentucky on Dec. 31, 2010.

Louisiana, averaging 84.4 points and shooting 47.5 percent, has dropped 12 straight against ranked opponents since a 79-76 win at No. 12 Mississippi State on Nov. 23, 2002.

Sophomore forward Shawn Long leads the Ragin' Cajuns with 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Guard Elfrid Payton averaged 24.4 points in the first five contests but 12.3 in the last three.

Reserve Kasey Shepherd had 22 points while Payton and Long each scored 17 and combined for 22 rebounds during Wednesday's 89-80 win at Louisiana Tech.

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