Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals set their sights on a milestone victory, as they host the Hartford Hawks at the KFC Yum! Center as part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Tip Off.
Hartford improved to 2-2 on Friday with a 74-60 win over Farleigh Dickinson at home. The Hawks split their two road tests prior to the victory in their home opener as they lost by 14 points to Florida Gulf Coast before downing Fairfield, 63-53, last Wednesday. This will be the team's fifth game in 11 days and its first matchup with a ranked opponent since 2009. Coach John Gallagher has a very experienced group as his disposal. Hartford returned four starters and over 90 percent of its scoring from last season's squad that produced one of the best finishes in program history with a 17-14 overall record.
The Cardinals have had no trouble through their first three games. They have defeated the College of Charleston, Hofstra and Cornell by an average margin of 31.7 points per game. Louisville easily dispatched the Big Red in its most recent outing and set a new season-high for points in a game in the 99-54 rout. The defending national champion's current 19-game win streak is the longest in school history. Pitino's squad is tied for second nationally in fewest turnovers per game (6.0) and is third among Division I programs in assists-to-turnover ratio (2.67).
American East Player of the Year candidate Mark Nwakamma has lived up to the hype so far with four consecutive double-digit outings in as many games. The junior forward has surpassed the 20-point mark on two occasions and also recorded a pair of double-doubles. The 6-foot-6 Nwakamma went 5-of-8 from the field to net 14 points in the team's recent decision over FDU. Hartford had its best offensive performance of the campaign against the Knights as it converted 56.1 percent of its field goal attempts with a 10-of-20 clip on 3- point attempts. Evan Cooper scored a team-high 18 points in 20 minutes off the bench and Wes Cole also had a strong showing as a reserve with 11 points.
Louisville's chances of another deep run in March became much greater when Russ Smith decided to return for his senior season. Smith has been outstanding while averaging a team-high 20.3 ppg to go along with five apg. Junior forward Wayne Blackshear is coming off a career-high 20 points which he produced in only 18 minutes versus Cornell. Blackshear has hit seven of his last eight attempts from beyond the arc. Junior college transfer Chris Jones is adding 13.7 ppg, while Montrezl Harrell is near a double-double average with 12 points and 9.3 boards per tilt. The Cardinals' win over the Big Red also marked the return of Kevin Ware, who had not played since suffering a devastating injury in last season's Big Dance versus Duke. Ware scored five points in 13 minutes in his 2013-14 debut.