No. 14 Louisville runs past UCF 90-65
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Louisville entered its American Athletic Conference opener against UCF fresh off an emotional handful of days following a loss to in-state rival Kentucky and the dismissal of forward Chane Behanan from the program.
If any of that was affecting them, they didn’t show it.
Russ Smith hit six 3-pointers and finished with 24 points and nine assists as No. 14 Louisville ran past UCF 90-65 on Tuesday.
Luke Hancock had 16 points for the Cardinals (12-2, 1-0) and Montrezl Harrell added 15 points and eight rebounds.
Smith, one of the Cardinals’ senior leaders said though Monday’s news of Behanan’s dismissal after a second university policy violation was still raw, he and his teammates will trudge forward.
“It’s just us,” Smith said. “I’m from Brooklyn, and what happens there is, it’s yourself. No matter how bad your environment is, you’re either going to make it out or you’re not. This is what we have. And we have to either make it out or have a bad season.
“I think the guys understand that. I’m trying to make that a point of emphasis to the guys that no matter what we do, we have players. We still can turn the season around.”
The loss to Kentucky knocked the defending national champions out of the top 10 for the first time this season.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he felt his team blocked it all out by the time it took the court.
“I don’t think we thought about it, to be honest with you,” he said. “We all felt sad for Chane. But the one thing about life is it must go on and you must focus in on your job. There’s so many things you have to do between the lines that you can’t get affected on what happens away from the lines.
“And our guys were totally focused in on that.”
After seeing a big first-half lead cut to single digits, the Cardinals led by as many as 27 points in the second half, connecting on 14 3-pointers. Pitino said the number he was most impressed with was that his team had 28 assists on 34 field goals.
The ball movement kept the Knights spread out, which helped wear them down in the second half.
“We got a lot of guys that can play and a lot of guys that can score, so when we move it around like that, we look pretty good on offense,” Hancock said.
Isaiah Sykes led UCF with 19 points and nine rebounds.
The Knights (8-4, 0-1) were playing their first game in nine days and hosting their fourth Top 25 team ever. The loss snapped a five-game winning streak.
After going cold from the field late in the first half, the Cardinals found their touch in the final 20 minutes. They connected on six 3-pointers in the first 7 minutes of the half to build a 25-point lead with 13:28 to play.
The Cardinals were aggressive on both ends early and led by as many as 19 points in the first half before seeing that lead wilt to just nine at halftime.
Louisville used its pressure to push the tempo early, forcing three straight turnovers to begin the game.
The Cardinals jumped to a 15-2 lead and then went on another 8-2 spurt to stretch the lead to 23-4.
They began to settle for outside shots, though, allowing UCF to settle down offensively. That, coupled with two turnovers helped key a 13-0 run by the Knights that trimmed the gap all the way down 28-23.
UCF coach Donnie Jones said his team was aware of the adversity Louisville was facing coming into the game and that their plan was to use their zone to try to slow down the Cardinals’ guards.
The Knights limited them to 48 percent shooting in the first half, but Louisville improved that to 63 percent in the second.
“They’re making you work hard defensively man-to-man,” Jones said. “Zone was working for us in the first half, because shots weren’t going down. In the second half they went down.”
Louisville stays on the road to begin the New Year, playing at Rutgers on Saturday.
Smith said despite recent setbacks, he thinks the Cardinals are ready for the conference season.
“I’m not new to losing players,” Smith said. “We’ve been losing guys since my freshman year with injuries. Guys going down, dropping like flies. It’s tough. Guys got to make up for it, guys got to play harder, (and) guys got to be more cohesive. Tonight was one of the more cohesive games we’ve played.”
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