Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - The ninth-ranked Louisville Cardinals hope to stay within striking distance in the race to an ACC title, as they play host to the NC State Wolfpack at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday afternoon.
The Cardinals have added yet another powerhouse program to the already top- heavy ACC this season and have certainly adjusted to their new home. Rick Pitino's squad has won four of its last five games and moved to 20-4 overall and 8-3 in the conference with Wednesday's 69-56 win at home. Louisville currently is tied with Duke and North Carolina for third place in the league standings, behind Virginia (10-1) and Notre Dame (10-3).
Mark Gottfried's Wolfpack have had their ups and downs this season, reflected in their modest 14-11 overall record. NC State has really struggled in conference play, especially lately, with losses in five of their last six games. The Wolfpack are coming off a 51-47 setback to second-ranked Virginia, falling to 5-7 in-conference, good for 10th-place in the ACC.
These two teams have met a total of 16 times, with the series split down the middle, 8-8. However, Louisville and NC State are meeting for the first time since 1988. Louisville has won five of the six meetings at home in this series.
NC State was just the latest victim of Virginia's stingy defensive play. The Cavaliers stymied the Wolfpack, who shot just .333 from the field, resulting in a season-low 47 points. Trevor Lacey and Anthony Barber posted double figures in the loss, finishing with 14 and 11 points, respectively. However, there wasn't much scoring help elsewhere. NC State only committed six turnovers in the game, but was outrebounded, 43-31, while allowing Virginia to grab a whopping 15 offensive boards.
The early departure of ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren to the NBA left a void in the NC State lineup this season. Lacey, an Alabama transfer, has done his best to fill it. The 6-foot-3 junior tops the team and ranks sixth in the ACC in scoring this season at 16.6 ppg. Senior guard Ralston Turner (12.7 ppg) and the sophomore Barber (11.4 ppg) help form a highly productive backcourt trio. Lacey and Turner are quite the one-two punch from long range, as they have combined for 120 of the team's 161 3-pointers to date.
The Wolfpack will have to once again play one of the better defensive teams in the country in Louisville. The Cardinals rank 17th nationally in scoring defense (58.4 ppg), while holding foes to just .373 shooting overall, including a meager .291 from behind the arc. The Cardinals also boast of a +4.1 rebounding margin and a +3.0 turnover margin. Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell have played at All-America levels this season for Louisville. Rozier, a sophomore guard, tops the team and conference in scoring at 18.5 ppg. Harrell, a 6-8 junior, is a perfect complement with his interior dominance, as he is netting 15.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, on a hefty .584 shooting. Chris Jones is next in the scoring column at 13.3 ppg, followed by Wayne Blackshear and his 10.6 ppg. However, Blackshear is currently nursing a hip injury and his status for this game is unclear.
Blackshear played just one minute of action against Pittsburgh earlier in the week before re-aggravating a soar hip and leaving the game. The Cardinals were still able to get the victory over Pittsburgh, as they shot .500 from the floor, while the Panthers managed a mere .377 effort. Harrell and Rozier were unstoppable as they both torched Pitt. Harrell finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds. Rozier recorded a double-double of his own, posting 22 points and 10 boards in the victory.