Louisville-Fairfield Preview

The Associated Press

As long as Louisville continues to take care of the basketball and play good defense, coach Rick Pitino can live through the latest distraction surrounding his team.

The third-ranked Cardinals hope to maintain their focus while trying for a 21st straight victory Saturday against Fairfield in the Hall of Fame Tipoff at Uncasville, Conn.

Pitino and Louisville (4-0) successfully dealt with the suspension of forward Chane Behanan, who missed only the season opener, and expect to do the same after junior guard Kevin Ware made news for missing a court date Monday. He was cited for reckless driving and speeding while behind the wheel of a borrowed car Oct. 26.

Ware, whose gruesome leg injury suffered during the Cardinals' NCAA tournament title run last season made him an inspirational figure for the team, plans to plead guilty to both charges. After a review, the school's compliance office found no issues surrounding the incident.

Pitino was not concerned about compliance but was frustrated with the situation in general.

"I don't like distractions, and I was distracted the entire day with this nonsense," he said after Tuesday's 87-48 rout of Hartford. "To me, it's someone trying to get to a concert and acting like a young kid and he should have acted more like a mature man because he is now.

"He acted like a kid instead and he's going to have to pay the consequences of it, whatever those consequences are."

It's uncertain if Ware will play in either of the two on-site games for this event, which concludes Sunday with Louisville facing either No. 24 North Carolina or Richmond.

With Ware limited to nine points and 26 minutes in two games this season, the Cardinals have shown they have a wealth of talent while averaging 88.3 points on 49.4 percent shooting. Russ Smith's 18.8 average leads six Louisville players scoring at least 9.3 per game.

With junior college transfer Chris Jones (13.0 points, 4.3 assists per game) running the offense, the Cardinals have recorded 65 assists while turning the ball over 25 times to top the nation with a 2.60 ratio. After committing seven Tuesday, Louisville has 10 or fewer turnovers in seven straight games - the longest run during Pitino's 13 seasons at the school.

His team has averaged 10.7 turnovers during a 20-game winning streak that dates to the memorable 104-101, five-overtime loss at then-No. 25 Notre Dame on Feb. 9.

"One of the points of emphasis this year is we are going to not turn the ball over because we are a possession team," Pitino said. "If you're going to press, you are going to be all over the floor trapping and using that much energy. If you just give it away, all that energy was for naught."

The Cardinals also are among the national leaders in forcing turnovers at 21.8 per game, including 25 against Hartford as they had a season-high 16 steals. Their four opponents have been held to 38.9 percent shooting and 54.8 points per contest.

None of that bodes well for Fairfield (1-3), which forces an average of just 9.8 turnovers and enters its first meeting with Louisville having lost three straight.

The Stags shot 51.2 percent in a 67-54 win over Sacred Heart on Nov. 9, but they've averaged 51.3 points on 36.7 shooting while losing to Hartford, Loyola-Maryland and Holy Cross by an average of 10.4 points.

Forward Marcus Gilbert averages a team-leading 11.8 points and had 26 in Wednesday's 63-49 loss to Holy Cross.

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