Louisville-South Florida Preview


Louisville coach Rick Pitino has been pleased with his team's performances during its winning streak, especially on the defensive end of the floor.

South Florida should remember how stifling that defense can be.

The 12th-ranked Cardinals look to win a fourth straight game and seventh consecutive road meeting with the Bulls on Wednesday night.

After Louisville (16-3, 5-1 American Athletic Conference) was outrebounded while allowing then-No. 24 Memphis to shoot 50.9 percent in a 73-67 home loss Jan. 9, Pitino challenged his squad to get tougher on the boards and pick up its energy on defense.

The Cardinals have responded, holding opponents to 34.5 percent from the field during their winning streak. They held Connecticut to 35.2 percent shooting in Saturday's 76-64 road victory.

''Our last three games, we're really starting to play good basketball,'' Pitino said. ''Our defense has picked up, our rebounding has picked up.''

Louisville won the board battle 45-30 after entering with a plus-3.4 rebounding margin per game. Montrezl Harrell finished with 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks while registering his third double-double in four games.

''We rebounded as a team, that was what it really was about,'' Harrell said. ''On the defensive end, we limited that team to one shot and on the offensive end we were giving ourselves second and third chances.

''I didn't try to force anything, or go for a career high in scoring. I just took what the defense gave me and made it work.''

Freshman guard Terry Rozier started against Connecticut in place of Chris Jones, who will miss his third straight game Wednesday with an oblique injury. The Cardinals also are playing without Chane Behanan after he was dismissed from the team Dec. 30 due to off-court behavior.

Senior Russ Smith has remained a constant, averaging 21.5 points over the six games since Behanan was dismissed after scoring 23 on Saturday.

Smith scored a game-high 15 points as visiting Louisville beat South Florida 59-41 in most recent meeting Feb. 17, holding the Bulls to 24.5 percent from the field.

USF had its second-lowest point total in program history while shooting 26.7 percent in a 64-38 loss at Louisville on Jan. 12, 2013, and it likely will have trouble again trying to pull off an upset Wednesday.

The Bulls (10-8, 1-4) have dropped four of five after falling 61-54 to then-No. 19 Cincinnati on Saturday. They've shot 39.9 percent over their last four.

Victor Rudd scored 12 points while shooting 5 of 13 against the Bearcats.

''This is a game we felt like we should have won,'' said Rudd, who averages a team-high 15.3 points. ''We finally outrebounded somebody. We played good in the zone for a while.''

Javontae Hawkins scored a career-high 15 points - one more than his total over the previous six games combined - as South Florida was held to a season low for points.

Coach Stan Heath still was impressed with the effort.

''I thought we really competed in this game,'' Heath said. ''Gave ourselves a chance to win. Just came up short.''

Louisville will be the second of three straight ranked opponents for South Florida, which visits No. 23 Memphis on Sunday.

The Bulls haven't beaten the Cardinals at home since Jan. 31, 2001.