Panthers hope to claw their way past fifth-ranked Cardinals

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The fifth-ranked Louisville Cardinals continue their tear through the non-conference portion of their schedule as they entertain the FIU Panthers on Wednesday night in the 11th Annual Billy Minardi Classic.

FIU is a game under .500 at this point (3-4), and the team has already played a pair of Sun Belt Conference tilts, splitting the two. The Panthers are coming off a 76-73 loss at Florida Gulf Coast, which dropped them to an even 2-2 in true road games. FIU will return to SBC action next Thursday at Western Kentucky.

Louisville is an impressive 9-1, the team's lone setback coming in a 76-71 final against Duke in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis event in the Bahamas on Nov. 24. The Cardinals have reeled off four straight wins since, the most recent of which being an 87-78 decision at Memphis last Saturday. UofL has one more difficult game (vs. Kentucky on Dec. 29) before opening Big East Conference play against the visiting Providence Friars on Jan. 2, 2013.

Louisville won the only previous meeting with FIU, 92-55, at home on Dec. 1, 2010.

Poor defense has handcuffed the Panthers early on this season, as foes are shooting 49.2 percent from the floor in averaging 75.0 ppg. FIU has been productive when it gains control of the ball, netting 74.3 ppg in hitting 44.1 percent of its total shots, which includes a 36.7 percent showing from 3-point range. The team boasts three double-digit scorers, led by Malik Smith and his 16.9 ppg. Smith is just a 38.2 percent shooter overall, but has drained 42.9 percent of his long-range bombs, logging more 3-pointers (27) than all but one of his teammates has attempts. Tymell Murphy (14.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Jerome Frink (10.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) have both done their part to help the Panthers in their quest for more victories, with the former knocking down a sensational 63.6 percent of his total shots, and the latter adding more than two steals per game. Gaby Belardo was high man for FIU in its recent loss to Florida Gulf Coast, netting 17 points while handing out seven assists. In all, four Panthers reached double figures in the scoring column, but the team once again performed poorly on defense, as the Eagles shot 55.6 percent from the floor, despite a lackluster 4-of-16 effort from beyond the arc. Frink logged a double-double consisting of 10 points and as many rebounds in defeat.

With the Cardinals excelling at both ends of the court, it's no wonder they have only one loss on their resume'. The team is putting up 78.0 ppg in hitting 44.7 percent of its total shots, while allowing 55.6 ppg on 39.8 percent field goal efficiency, which includes a 28.2 percent effort from 3- point range. Russ Smith is one of the top performers in the Big East through the first month and change, as he is netting 20.2 ppg, and the team's two other double-digit scorers are Peyton Siva (11.7 ppg, 5.8 apg) and Chane Behanan (10.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg). UofL also owns favorable margins in both rebounding (+7.4) and turnovers (+9.4), the latter of which leads the nation. Behanan scored 22 points, Smith and Siva tallied 19 apiece, and the Cardinals used a massive 38-14 edge in points from the foul line to knock off Memphis last Saturday. The Tigers shot 51.8 percent from the field, but committed an unsightly 24 turnovers, while the Cards were guilty of only 13 giveaways and were 7-of-17 from 3-point territory.