GAME NOTES: The fourth-ranked Louisville Cardinals dive into Big East play as they play host to the Providence Friars on Wednesday at the KFC Yum! Center.
Rick Pitino's Cardinals head into conference play with a full head of steam, as they have won seven straight games since their lone loss of the season, a 76-71 setback to top-ranked Duke. The team's seventh straight victory came last weekend with an 80-77 triumph over arch rival Kentucky.
Ed Cooley has had to deal with a great deal of adversity already, as his Friars have navigated their schedule at less than full strength from nearly the beginning of the season. As a result, the team comes in with an 8-4 overall record, having lost each of the last two games, including a 69-68 setback at Brown last week.
Louisville holds an 11-6 advantage in the series with Providence and is a perfect 6-0 against the Friars at home. Pitino led Providence to the 1987 NCAA Final Four before departing for the NBA.
Providence was without leading scorer Bryce Cotton (knee) and lacked the offensive depth to get past the Bears last time out. The Friars shot just .411 from the floor, despite knocking down 10 3-pointers in the one-point loss. LaDontae Henton had a huge offensive performance, posting a career-high 37 points on 13-of-20 shooting, that included six 3-pointers. Kadeem Batts added 10 points to the cause, but the remainder of the roster mustered just 21 combined points.
Cotton leads the team with a hefty 22.0 ppg, but is still listed as questionable this week. The good news is that the team recently had All-Big East guard Vincent Council return to the lineup after getting injured in the season-opener and missing the first 10 games. Last season, Council led the team in scoring (15.9 ppg) and the Big East in assists (7.5 apg). Henton's performance against Brown was certainly encouraging, lifting his season average to 17.3 ppg. Batts (16.1 ppg) is another prolific scorer on the roster.
Louisville has gotten the job done at both ends of the floor this year and as a result, enjoys an impressive +21.1 scoring margin. The team can certainly fill up the basket at 78.2 ppg, led by Russ Smith's 19.8 ppg. Peyton Siva adds to the backcourt play as both a solid scorer (12.0 ppg) and deft distributor (5.8 apg). Chane Behanan provides balance up front, shooting .509 from the floor and posting 11.5 points and a team-best 7.5 rebounds per game.
It was the big three again that led the Cardinals to the three-point win over the Wildcats last time out. Smith netted 21 points, including 17 in the second half to lead the way. Behanan and Siva were instrumental as well, tallying 20 and 19 points, respectively. The Cardinals held a 17-point lead at one point, but had to hold on to earn their seventh straight victory.
Even at 100-percent, the Friars would probably need to play nearly flawless to earn a road win at Louisville. The Cardinals are certainly clicking right now and behind another strong performance by Smith, Siva and company, expect Louisville to begin conference play on a high note.