Cardinals take on Knights in AAC lid lifter

Orlando, FL ( - Following a tough loss to rival Kentucky, the 14th-ranked Louisville Cardinals will try to bounce back as they begin their voyage through the American Athletic Conference with a visit to the UCF Knights on New Year's Eve.

The Cardinals scored the first eight points of the game against the Wildcats, but that was the high point, as they fell by a final score of 73-66. The setback ended a six-game win streak for Louisville, which is playing its third straight road contest today. A visit to Rutgers on Saturday will finish up a season-long, four-game road trip.

It has been more than a week since UCF hit the court, as its last outing came on Dec. 22 when the Knights toppled Valparaiso, 90-62. That victory was the fifth straight for UCF, which is 7-1 at home and 8-3 overall. The Knights finish a six-game homestand on Saturday against Temple.

Louisville came out on top in the only other meeting between these two teams, when it rolled to a 78-58 victory on Dec. 15, 1999.

After nailing their first three field goal attempts, Louisville ended up shooting 39.7 percent from the floor to succumb to defeat against Kentucky. The difference in the contest came in the paint, where the Wildcats had a 44-36 edge on the boards, and 42-24 advantage in scoring.

Playing against a nationally-ranked opponent, especially a heated rival, on the road certainly took its toll on the Cardinals. Normally they are an extremely effective bunch at both ends of the court. On the season, Louisville is scoring 84.6 ppg and connecting on 47 percent from the field. The Cardinals are also extremely difficult to score on, holding foes to 61.2 ppg and 39.7 percent shooting. The defensive strength is in forcing turnovers, with the Cardinals ranking 11th nationally in steals (9.5 pg). Russ Smith (16.9 ppg, 4.9 apg) has always been a scorer but his facilitating more this season. Chris Jones (13.8 ppg) and Montrezl Harrell (12 ppg, 8 rpg) are two of the primary beneficiaries. Chane Behanan (7.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg) was recently dismissed from the team.

The resistance UCF felt from Valparaiso was laughable compared to Louisville's joust with Kentucky. The Knights sank 51.7 percent of their shots from the floor, including 11-of-19 shots from beyond the arc, while forcing 17 turnovers from the Crusaders.

UCF has also been performing well in just about every phase of the game this season. The Knights are netting 80.1 ppg and shooting 47.9 percent from the floor, while posting strong numbers on defense as well (67.2 ppg, .422 FG percentage). One of the major strengths of the unit is cleaning the glass, as the Knights are 20th nationally and first in the AAC in rebounds (41.1 pg). There is a bit more balance to the Knights' attack, as Calvin Newell (14.8 ppg, 3.6 apg) is the leading scorer among a quartet of players putting in at least 10 ppg. Isaiah Sykes (13.9 ppg), Tristan Spurlock (13.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Kasey Wilson (11.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) are also reliable offensive threats.