Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - The 12th-ranked Louisville begin the month of February with some distance to close in the American Athletic Conference race, as they play host to the UCF Knights in a league matchup at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday.
Rick Pitino's Cardinals had their shot at the top team in the league earlier in the week, but suffered a 69-66 loss to Cincinnati and now trail the Bearcats by two and a half games in the league standings. The loss to UC ended a four-game win streak for the defending national champions, dropping them to 17-4 overall and 6-2 in the AAC.
The conference race has long been over for Donnie Jones' Knights, who reside just outside of the conference cellar at 1-6, ahead of only the 1-7 Temple Owls. UCF enters this contest with a five-game losing streak in tow, including a 69-59 setback to nationally-ranked Memphis on Wednesday.
Louisville is seeking the regular-season sweep after blowing out UCF in Tampa to open up league play on Dec. 31. The Cardinals are 2-0 all-time against the Knights.
Isaiah Sykes had another strong outing, posting a game-high 24 points, but it wasn't enough to upend the Memphis Tigers last time out. Sykes completed a double-double with 12 rebounds and added five assists as well in the loss. Matt Williams was the only other Knight to finish in double figures, putting up 13 points. Overall, UCF shot just .397 from the floor, a number weighed down by an ugly 5-of-23 effort from behind the arc (.217).
Sykes is a rare bread, who does a little bit of everything for his team. The 6-foo-6 senior leads the team in scoring (15.6 ppg), rebounding (6.7 rpg) and assists (3.6 apg). Calvin Newell (11.6 ppg) and Tristan Spurlock (10.7 ppg) add to the offensive attack, which yields 73.1 ppg.
The Cardinals trailed by 17 points in the second half, but battled all the way back to take the lead with five minutes remaining, but couldn't hold on, as Cincinnati picked up the 3-point win on Louisville's home floor. Montrezl Harrell led the way in defeat with 18 points. Russ Smith and Luke Hancock added 16 points apiece, while Terry Rozier finished with 10.
Smith is playing at an All-American level this season, pacing Louisville in scoring (18.0 ppg) and assists (4.8 apg), ranking in the top-five in the conference in both categories. Harrell has emerged as dominant player up front, averaging 12.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, while shooting .631 from the floor. Hancock (11.1 ppg) and Chris Jones (11.0 ppg) round out the top scoring threats on a team that is averaging a hefty 82.1 ppg, tops in the AAC.