Russ Smith #2 of the Louisville Cardinals drive in the first half against J.J. Moore #44 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Louis Brown Athletic Center on January 4, 2014 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Russ Smith scored 19 points and No. 11 Louisville overcame foul troubles to run away from South Florida 80-54 on Tuesday night.
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Russ Smith scored 19 points and No. 11 Louisville overcame foul troubles to run away from South Florida 80-54 on Tuesday night.
Luke Hancock added 16 points and Montrezl Harrell added 14 points despite four fouls as the Cardinals (22-4, 11-2 American Athletic Conference) won their tuneup before Saturday's rematch at first place and No. 7 Cincinnati. Louisville's fifth consecutive win also completed a season sweep of the Bulls (12-15, 3-11).
Doing so required surviving a second-half stretch with Harrell and Blackshear sidelined with four fouls each, not to mention cold shooting after a 54-percent first half. Both later returned to help the Cardinals steadily pull away, with Harrell adding a late basket-shaking dunk.
Freshman Terry Rozier scored 13 points for Louisville, which shot 48 percent.
Victor Rudd had 27 points but was USF's only double-digit scorer on a night it shot 49 percent from the field. The Bulls' second-leading scorers were Shemiye McLendon and Martino Brock with seven points each.
Louisville on the other hand used its depth and experience to offset its foul issues and dominate the paint (56-26) and bench scoring (29-12) while beating the outmanned Bulls 36-30 in rebounding. The Cardinals also scored 20 off 20 USF turnovers.
Though it might have asking been a lot for Louisville to duplicate Sunday's 48-point drubbing of Rutgers, the Cardinals entered the game leading the nation in scoring margin (+21.2) and were facing a Bulls team they blew out by 39 last month in Tampa. They ended up with another win of at least 15 points and their third straight by at least 24.
Louisville's goal then and now against USF was putting things in place before facing Cincinnati, and the Cardinals' winning streak has demonstrated their growth since their three-point loss to the Bearcats.
Cardinals coach Rick Pitino had hoped to achieve that with improved defense, particularly in the middle by big men Mangok Mathiang and Stephan Van Treese. Specifically, he wanted a solid combined effort from the duo as that will be critical to avenging last month's loss to the Bearcats.
While they combined for just 11 points, the 14 rebounds between them were key in thwarting USF, which entered as losers of five of seven since falling to the Cardinals but had beaten SMU and fell by just five to Cincinnati.
Both teams shot over 54 percent in the first half with the Bulls making an impressive 11 of 19 from the field (58 percent), which should have kept them close to the Cardinals. But 10 turnovers, a 16-10 rebounding deficit and defensive breakdowns resulting in Rozier scoring twice off inbounds passes in particular contributed to USF trailing 46-28 at the break.
Foul troubles marred Louisville's otherwise solid first half as Harrell, Van Treese, Chris Jones and Blackshear each had two at the break. The Cardinals' situation became more dire early in the second half as Harrell picked up his third foul along with a technical, sending him to the bench along with Blackshear after he was whistled twice.
That forced Mangok and Van Treese to play together for a brief stretch and the defensive combination helped Louisville stay safely ahead despite 7-of-26 shooting through 11-plus minutes of the second half. While Rudd's 16 second-half points provided a boost for the Bulls, they couldn't get closer than 12 because he had no offensive help.