Top 25 foes collide in crucial AAC affair

Memphis, TN ( - With the American Athletic Conference crown still up for grabs, the seventh-ranked Louisville Cardinals take on the 21st- ranked Memphis Tigers in a key league matchup at FedExForum on Saturday afternoon.

The defending national champions are tied with Cincinnati atop the AAC standings with a stellar 13-2 mark. Rick Pitino's Cardinals are playing some of their best basketball of the season, entering this contest with a seven- game win streak in tow following Thursday's 88-66 rout of Temple.

Josh Pastner's Tigers aren't out of the hunt, although they would need plenty of help to earn a share of the conference title. Memphis is tied for fourth in the league standings and is three games out of the lead with three to play at 10-5. Memphis didn't do itself any favors with Thursday's 77-68 loss at Houston.

Louisville holds a 53-35 series advantage over Memphis, but the Tigers are seeking the regular-season sweep after recording a 73-67 victory at Louisville on Jan. 9.

The defending champs have excelled in a number of areas this season, making them a dangerous team as the postseason approaches. Louisville ranks second in the nation in turnover margin (+6.9) and 20th in fewest turnovers (10.2 per game). Offensively, the Cardinals are netting a hefty 82.3 ppg on .480 shooting, while defensively, the team is yielding just 61.6 ppg and holding foes under 40 percent shooting. All-American candidate Russ Smith is the driving force for Louisville, pacing the team in scoring (17.7 ppg), assists (4.5 apg) and steals (54). Montrezl Harrell (.608 shooting, 13.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg) is the perfect complement with his dominant frontcourt play. Luke Hancock (11.7 ppg), Chris Jones (10.1 ppg) and Wayne Blackshear (9.0 ppg) provide more than enough depth.

For the second time this season, the Cardinals made light work of the Owls, this time cruising to a 22-point victory at home. Louisville shot a blistering 53.3 percent from the floor in the game, led by the trio of Smith, Harrell and Terry Rozier. Smith was 8-of-12 from the floor and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line, finishing with 24 points. Harrell was 9-of-12 from the field, pouring in 21 points, while Rozier added 19 points off the bench.

A strong offensive squad in its own right, Memphis enters this game averaging 78.8 ppg on .486 shooting. The Tigers also enjoy positives in both rebounding (+3.1) and turnover (+1.8) margins. Joe Jackson is the team's catalyst and has shown himself capable as both a potent scorer (14.4 ppg) and deft distributor (4.7 apg). Shaq Goodwin has enjoyed a strong campaign as well and has shown signs of dominant play up front, shooting a strong .612 from the field and averaging 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, while leading the team with 52 blocks. Michael Dixon Jr. has been a valuable scoring threat as well at 11.8 ppg, doing most of his damage coming off the bench.

Goodwin posted his fourth double-double of the season and fifth in his career with 16 points and 10 rebounds, but it wasn't enough, as the Tigers fell to Houston, ending the team's four-game win streak. Goodwin trailed only Dixon in the scoring column for Memphis, as Dixon went 7-of-14 from the floor for 19 points. Austin Nichols was an efficient 6-of-9 from the floor, adding 12 points in the losing effort.