Pride come calling on third-ranked Cardinals

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Updated: 11/12/2013 10:57 am

Louisville, KY (Sports Network) - The defending national champion Louisville Cardinals continue a four-game homestand to begin the 2013-14 season on Tuesday, as they welcome the Hofstra Pride to the KFC Yum! Center for a non- conference affair.

Rick Pitino's Cardinals came into the season ranked third nationally and certainly looked the part of a dominant team looking to successfully defend its national title, with a season-opening romp over College of Charleston (70-48). Louisville has now won 17 straight games dating back to last season, one short of the school record 18, accomplished by the 1979-80 team.

First-year head coach Joe Mihalich has his work cut out for him if Hofstra is to end Louisville's streak. The Pride have split their first two games of the season, dropping an 88-84 shootout to Monmouth in the opener, but bouncing back with an 80-58 rout of Fairleigh Dickinson two days later. Mihalich was formerly at Niagara, leading a solid mid-major program to a pair of NCAA Tournaments and three NITs.

Louisville won the only previous meeting, a 75-66 decision in the first round of the 1997 Puerto Rico Shootout.

Offense has not been a problem in the early stages of the season for the Pride, who are netting 82.0 ppg after two outings. A balanced effort has been the main reason, as five players are averaging double figures, including four starters. Leading the way is Zeke Upshaw at 14.5 ppg, thanks to .533 shooting. Dion Nesmith and Moussa Kone are next in line at 12.0 ppg each, while Kone has clearly been the team's top rebounder (11.0 rpg). Jamall Robinson and Chris Jenkins close out the top scorers at 11.5 and 10.5 ppg, respectively. Robinson led the Pride against Fairleigh Dickinson with 15 points. Kone and Nesmith added 14 points each, while Kone grabbed 12 boards. Darren Payen added 12 points in 20 minutes off the bench.

The Cardinals have some big holes to fill, as the team lost a couple of key contributors from last year's championship squad. To make matters worse, what was supposed to be a loaded team this year has started at less than full strength with Final Four MVP Luke Hancock currently sidelined with an injury, while Chane Behanan remains suspended. The team still has All-American candidate Russ Smith as its focal point and that was more than enough in the season opener, as Smith erupted for 21 points to lead all scorers. Fellow guard Chris Jones had a strong game with 12 points, six rebounds and five assists. Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell added balance up front, as the two forwards netted 11 and 10 points, respectively. Still, the Cardinals certainly have some stuff to work on, as they shot a miserable .382 from the floor against the Cougars, including just 4-of-18 from 3-point range.

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