Louisville coach Rick Pitino said after Louisville’s 87 – 70 win over the Central Florida Knights that coaching Russ Smith for the last four years has been the “greatest and most hair-raising experience”.  Tonight’s game exemplified what he was saying as Smith led the Cardinals with 27 points and getting chewed out the most.

Louisville wins. Photo by Jason Sheehan
Louisville wins. Photo by Jason Sheehan

Smith was 9 – 14 from the field and 7 – 10 from the free throw line.  He drew the ire of Pitino for trying to go behind his back against three UCF players in the first half and turned the ball over.  He played only 12 minutes in the first half even though he was scoring at will.  Pitino was so upset with Smith’s play in the first half that he kept Smith on the bench to start the second half.  You live with the good and the bad with Russ.  Fortunately, this year we have seen more of the good side of Russ.  Who knows where the Cardinals would be without the stellar play of Smith.
UofL too much for UCF - Photo by Jason Sheehan
UofL too much for UCF – Photo by Jason Sheehan

Luke Hancock has been the other glue-guy for Louisville.  He has finally recovered from an early-season injury is playing his best basketball of the year.  Hancock finished with 16 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds while not committing a turnover.
Pitino has says that Hancock is the best player on the team at getting Montrezl Harrell the ball down in the post.  You could see early on that Louisville was trying to get the ball down low to Harrell.  Montrezl finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds.  His offensive game has improved since the beginning of the year and a big reason is where he is getting the ball.
Cardinals roll - Photo by Jason Sheehan
Cardinals roll – Photo by Jason Sheehan

Pitino continued to tinker with his starting lineup.  He chose to go with a smaller and more athletic lineup starting Wayne Blackshear in place of Mangok Mathiang.  The other starters were Smith, Rozier, Hancock and Harrell.  It’s the seventh different lineup Louisville has used this season.  Pitino said he would like to stick with it because of the advantages it gives you offensively.
Central Florida was plagued by foul trouble in the second half as their two best players, Tristan Spurlock and Isaiah Sykes, spent nearly seven minutes on the bench.  Spurlock said, “It was tough for us.  I really felt it hurt us as a team.”  Spurlock led the Knights with 20 points.  Sykes, CFU’s leading scorer at 15.6 points per game, struggled as he finished with only 8 points on 2 – 12 shooting.
Louisville started out of the gates with a strong showing building a 14 point lead.  Strong play by Spurlock brought the Knights to within five.  The Cardinals answered every run, but could never completely pull away.  Blackshear hit a three off a nicely designed double screen to end the first half and put the Cardinals ahead 37 – 27.
Louisville opened up the second half with a 5 – 0 run.  Wayne Blackshear hit another three pointer off of a set play and then Terry Rozier made a steal and completed the layup at the other end.  Louisville’s lead hovered around ten for most of the second half until the Cardinals started to pull away in the last five minutes.
The Cardinals shot an impressive 63.3% in the second half.  The smaller lineup help create easy scoring opportunities both inside and outside.  Louisville also scored 23 points off of 16 CFU turnovers.
Louisville improved 7 – 2 in the AAC and 18 – 4 overall.  The Knights fell to 1 – 7 in the conference and     9 – 10 overall.
Louisville will head to Houston Wednesday for a 9:00 game.  The Cardinals defeated the Cougars by 39 on January 16 in the Yum Center.

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