LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Missing two players with foul trouble didn’t concern Louisville because other talented teammates were ready and able to fill the void in their absences.
The Cardinals’ advantages in ability and depth were too much for a South Florida squad that got all of its offense from one player.
Russ Smith scored 19 points and No. 11 Louisville overcame foul troubles to run away from the Bulls 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).
“I think we are playing pretty good basketball right now,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “We are going to continue to get better. I think February is the time to get better. March is the time to win and I think we’re doing that.”
Doing so required surviving a second-half stretch with Harrell and Wayne 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.
“I think we have enough veteran guys on this team that can just come in and deliver right away,” said Blackshear, who had seven points. “Me and Trez came out, but we had Mangok (Mathiang) who was being very active, and Stephan Van Treese. It was like we never lost anything out there.”
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.
Then again, USF didn’t have as many opportunities as Louisville. The Cardinals took 26 more shots than the Bulls (71-45), one of many areas where their depth and experience overwhelmed USF.
Louisville also dominated 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.
“I think turnovers were a key point in the game and we had many more possessions than they had,” said Hancock, whose 5-of-13 shooting night included a vicious dunk that put Louisville up 54-36.
“When you have that many more (possessions), it’s going to be tough to lose the game. Turnovers are what kind of gave us our advantage.”
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.
Helping the effort were the 6-foot-10 Mathiang and 6-9 senior Van Treese, who combined for just 11 points but had 14 rebounds between them that proved key in thwarting USF.
Especially when foul troubles threatened to 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.
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.
“A lot of things we did a lot better this game than we did the last time we played them,” Bulls coach Stan Heath said. “They (the Cardinals) come at you in so many different ways. It’s just really hard to get a rhythm going.”