Cardinals collide with Bulls in AAC affair

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Updated: 2/18 10:39 am

Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - The 11th-ranked Louisville Cardinals will try for their fifth straight win on Tuesday night when they welcome the South Florida Bulls to the KFC Yum! Center on Tuesday night for an American Athletic Conference bout.

Although USF started its season a stellar 9-4 during its non-conference schedule, things have taken a turn for the worse in the AAC, winning just three of 13 matchups to dip to 12-14 overall. The Bulls are currently losers of three straight, most recently dropping a tough 75-74 contest versus UCF on Saturday, but they are surprisingly a solid 5-4 on the road.

Louisville dismantled Rutgers on its home floor on Sunday, 102-54, and have made a dominating statement during its four-game winning streak by outscoring its opponents by an astounding 26.0 ppg. The Cardinals are now 21-4 overall this season, including 13-2 on their home floor, and at 10-2 in the conference, they are a game and a half behind Cincinnati for first place with six games remaining, including a showdown with the Bearcats on Saturday.

The Cardinals have won 28 of 32 all-time matchups with the Bulls, which includes an easy 86-47 triumph in Tampa earlier this season.

In a back-and-forth contest with UCF that consisted of seven ties and 10 lead changes, the Bulls held a lead in the final minute before falling victim to the game-winning layup by UCF with under two seconds remaining. The Bulls shot an impressive 49.1 percent from the field on the afternoon, but they could not keep pace with the Knights (.509). Martino Brock provided a spark off the bench with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the floor, while Victor Rudd also poured in 21 points to go with nine rebounds.

USF is typically not a strong offensive club, as it shoots just 43.3 percent from the field (including 25.6 percent from 3-point range) for 66.0 ppg. Its defensive effort has been lacking as well, allowing 70.5 ppg while sporting a -1.3 turnover margin. Rudd is the unquestioned catalyst with 14.9 ppg and 6.7 rpg, although he shoots a modest 41.1 percent from the field. Corey Allen Jr. (9.9 ppg), Chris Perry (9.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Brock (9.4 ppg) have been solid as well.

Louisville opened up a 19-point lead at the half of its most recent game and only improved after intermission en route to its most convincing victory of the season, as it shot 55.7 percent from the field, including a red-hot 16- of-30 from beyond the arc, while holding Rutgers to more turnovers (18) than field goals (17). Luke Hancock was especially dangerous from 3-point range, knocking down 6-of-8 from long distance for 25 points. Terry Rozier (16 points) and Wayne Blackshear (10) were both impressive off the bench, while five others scored at least seven points in the balanced effort.

With the Cardinals manhandling their opponents in recent weeks, they have only improved upon their outstanding season totals, as they outshoot their opponents from the field, 48.1 percent to 39.5 percent, and own the nation's best scoring margin at a whopping +21.2. They are also active in the passing lanes with the country's third-ranked turnover margin (+6.7) and knock down 8.4 3-pointers per game at a 37.9 percent clip. Russ Smith has firmly established himself as one the nation's best guards with 17.7 ppg, 4.6 apg and 1.8 spg, while making nearly 39 percent of his 3-pointers. Montrezl Harrell mans the paint with 12.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg and 1.4 bpg, while Hancock (12.0 ppg), Chris Jones (10.8 ppg) and Blackshear (9.8 ppg) round out a very deep squad.

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