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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Russ Smith scored 27 points and Luke Hancock added 16 to help No. 12 Louisville pull away from Central Florida 87-70 on Saturday night.
Despite several rough spots that allowed the Knights to stay close, the Cardinals (18-4, 7-2 American Athletic Conference) stayed safely ahead by making 52 percent (32 of 62) from the field. Smith's 9-of-14 shooting included a pair of 3-pointers and led the way for Louisville.
Montrezl Harrell had 14 points and seven rebounds and Wayne Blackshear added 10 points in his first start in five games as Louisville bounced back from Thursday night's loss to No. 13 Cincinnati.
Tristan Spurlock scored 20 points for UCF (9-10, 1-7), but he and leading scorer Isaiah Sykes (eight points) spent nearly seven minutes of the second half on the bench with four fouls each.
Louisville took advantage of their absences to outscore the Knights 48-28 in the paint en route to completing a season sweep and avoiding a losing streak for the fourth time this season. The Cardinals also scored 23 points off 16 turnovers and held the Knights to 21-of-55 shooting (38 percent).
Against Cincinnati, the Cardinals rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit and took a three-point lead before making just two free throws in the final 5 minutes to lose 69-66. Against UCF, the Cardinals didn't allow uneven stretches to cost them the game.
Nor was Louisville fazed by being outrebounded for the ninth time (38-35) in 11 games, twice by UCF. The Cardinals simply got baskets when they needed them, handing the Knights their sixth straight loss.
UCF faced its third consecutive ranked AAC foe, and Louisville certainly didn't make it easy.
In fact, Louisville seemed primed to run UCF off the floor from the start in building a 20-6 lead with an improved transition game. Smith opened with a pair of 3-pointers en route to outscoring the Knights 14-13 with 9 1/2 minutes left in the half.
UCF got within 29-25 on Spurlock's flying dunk with 1:42 left in the half. Louisville's nearly 5-minute scoreless stretch earlier opened the door for the Knights, but the Cardinals managed to take a 37-27 halftime lead on long-range baskets from Tim Henderson and Blackshear to close the half.
Louisville offset 41 percent shooting in the half with a 21-17 rebounding edge that provided a little room for second-chance points.
Blackshear's 3-pointer and Terry Rozier's steal and layup coming out of the break briefly put Louisville up by 15 before UCF got within single digits, but the Knights' outlook dimmed when Spurlock drew personal and technical fouls with 13:04 remaining. That gave him four, sending him and Sykes to the bench when he picked up his fourth soon after.