Pittsburgh, PA – Still searching for their first Big East ranked Louisville Cardinals.
Louisville opened the season a perfect 12-0, but the team has stumbled since the start of conference play, winning just two of its first six league bouts. The Cardinals are playing their second straight road game tonight, and they dropped a 74-63 decision to No. 21 Marquette this past Monday to fall to 14-5 overall and 2-3 in true road tests. UofL is 12-2 at home this season, and coach Rick Pitino's club will return to the KFC Yum! Center to play three of its next four.
Pittsburgh's once-promising season has spiraled out of control, as the Panthers are 11-8 on the year and 0-6 in conference. A 59-54 home loss to Wagner on December 23 started the team on its current seven-game losing streak. Louisville is Pitt's third consecutive ranked opponent, and the Panthers previous two outings against Marquette and Syracuse both took place on the road. Despite the team's woes, both games were actually competitive with the home teams winning by a combined 13 points.
The all-time series between Louisville and Pittsburgh is tied at 5-5, and the Cardinals have won three of the four prior meetings in the Steel City. Three of the last four encounters overall have gone to overtime.
Russ Smith poured in 20 points and Chris Smith added 19, but those efforts weren't enough to earn Louisville the victory in its recent clash with Marquette. Chane Behanan logged a double-double consisting of 10 points and 12 rebounds, and Chris Smith grabbed eight boards, but the Cardinals shot just 41.3 percent from the field and committed 17 turnovers -- two of the most significant factors in the disappointing outcome. Through 19 games, Louisville is averaging 70.7 ppg while permitting 61.6 ppg, but those numbers are reversed against Big East foes (67.3 ppg, 69.8 ppg). Kyle Kuric (13.0 ppg) continues to pace the club in scoring, and he has been even better in league play (15.0 ppg). Russ Smith has certainly made the most of his time on the floor, as despite starting just five total games and shooting below 38 percent from the floor, he is averaging 12.6 ppg. Chris Smith (10.5 ppg) and Gorgui Dieng (10.1ppg, 9.1 rpg) round out the unit's double-digit scorers. The Cards lost more than the game against Marquette, as Rakeem Buckles (4.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg) suffered a serious knee injury and is expected to miss the remainder of the season.
Since Tray Woodall went out with a groin/abdominal injury last month, the Panthers have had difficulty scoring points. Except for an 84-81 loss at DePaul on January 5, Pittsburgh has been held to 63 points or fewer in five conference bouts, and to 59 points or fewer four times. They scored just 39 points in a January 11 home loss versus Rutgers. Ashton Gibbs, Lamar Patterson and Cameron Wright each scored 10 points in a 71-63 loss at top-ranked Syracuse earlier this week. The Panthers claimed a 40-28 advantage on the glass, but they shot just 39.3 percent from the floor and went a mere 12-of-23 at the foul line. For the season, Gibbs is the team's leading scorer with 16.5 ppg, but he has been successful on only 38.3 percent of his field goal attempts. He does have more than twice as many three-pointers (47) as anyone on the roster, and the team as a whole is hitting just under 35 percent of its long-range attempts. Nasir Robinson (12.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is the only other active player averaging double digits in the scoring column, and he also serves as the team's top rebounder.