Feb 22, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
By knocking off No. 7 Cincinnati on the road for an American Athletic Conference win on Saturday, No. 11 Louisville earned its biggest win of the season and came back to beat a Bearcat team that beat them at home earlier in the year. It was Louisville’s first win over a ranked opponent on the season.
But the Cardinals have the be pleased with the way a number of components are rolling right now and they hope a few more pieces step up as Louisville tries to make another run.
During the Cincinnati game, Louisville struggled to shoot three-pointers and free throws but their season percentages are far higher for both numbers and they still shot 40 percent from the field in a slow tempo game. The Cardinals also held a great Cincinnati team off the glass as best they could and fought with a really tough team at home.
Russ Smith is another big reason why Louisville should be liking its chances right now. The senior has gone from being considered by some as a third team All-American last season to an easy All-American candidate this season.
The senior guard is averaging a little less in scoring, but his field goal percentage is up to 46 percent from 41 percent and his three-point percent is up from 32 percent to 37 percent. With the loss of Peyton Siva, it’s been Smith’s improved ability to make plays for others that also stands out. Russ is up to 4.5 assists a game after averaging 2.9 a game as a junior. His leadership and big-play ability late in games is great for Louisville’s chances.
Montrezl Harrell is also active and energetic enough to be a consistent inside presence on both ends of Louisville. His ability to rebound, block shots and finish on the interior is huge for Louisville.
The Cardinals also have enough wings that can shot it and handle it that makes their depth solid going into March. Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear combine with Smith to form some potent three- or -four-guard sets where Louisville can spread the floor and attack or use its speed in the trademark press.
The great thing about this group is they shoot well from the outside and can hit shots, they can defend and force turnovers and they can finish after creating turnovers or create for others.
Part of the reason Louisville’s offense has been so consistent has been the ability of this core group after Smith and Harrell to play well each game.
When you include serviceable minutes from Stephen Van Treese, emerging minutes from freshman Mangok Mathiang and Louisville has a rotation of eight guys with solid roles and lead guys in Smith and Harrell who are capable of another deep tournament run.
Louisville still needs to get some more wins against top-25 level competition but this positive stretch of play and good win against Cincinnati show that the Cardinals are playing their best ball of the season and they’re capable of getting hot right now and making another run.
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