Houston, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - The 14th-ranked Louisville Cardinals begin a two-game road swing on Wednesday evening, as they take on the Houston Cougars in an American Athletic Conference matchup at Hofheinz Pavilion.
The defending national champions are coming off an 87-70 rout of UCF at home this past weekend. The win was the fifth in the last six games for Louisville, which is in second place in the conference standings (7-2), trailing only unbeaten Cincinnati (10-0).
The Cougars enter this contest with a four-game losing streak in tow after getting destroyed at Rutgers on Saturday, 93-70. With the loss to the Scarlet Knights, Houston is just 3-6 in league play.
Louisville owns a 14-5 series advantage against Houston and is seeking the regular-season sweep after a 91-52 whipping of the Cougars on Jan. 16 at home.
The Cardinals held a 10-point lead at the half against UCF and built on that, shooting a scorching 63.3 percent from the floor in the second half to cruise to victory. All-American candidate Russ SMith was unstoppable in the game, going 9-of-14 from the floor and 7-of-10 from the free-throw line to finish with a game-high 27 points. Luke Hancock added 16 points to the cause, while Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear posted 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Louisville gets the job done at both ends of the floor this season and as a result, enjoys an impressive +20.1 scoring margin, averaging 82.6 ppg, while allowing just 62.5. The team also takes great care of the basketball, ranking 39th nationally with just 10.6 miscues per outing and second nationally in turnover margin (+6.8). A deep and talented roster is led by Smith, who does a little bit of everything, averaging 18.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game, while also leading the team with 41 steals. Harrell is a perfect complement with his low post dominance at 12.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Hancock (11.3 ppg) and Chris Jones (10.8 ppg) add further scoring options for Louisville.
An uptempo game is not in Houston's best interest, as the Cougars have not proven themselves to be an offensive team this season. Houston is averaging a meager 69.1 ppg on the year on a bland .440 shooting percentage. The team has also struggled from the free-throw line (.656). TaShawn Thomas has been the team's best player to date, leading Houston in both scoring (15.9 ppg) and rebounding (8.8 rpg). Fellow forward Danuel House (12.8 ppg) is the only other Cougar currently averaging double figures in scoring, although Jherrod Stiggers (9.4 ppg) isn't far off the mark.
Thomas was productive in defeat last weekend, recording a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn't enough in a 23-point loss to Rutgers. Brandon Morris tacked on 13 points, while House and L.J. Rose finished with 11 points apiece for Houston, which was outscored 24-13 at the free-throw line by Rutgers. The Knights shot a solid .525 from the floor, compared to the Cougars' .429 effort.