What sounds like a vacation getaway, traveling to Tampa, FL in February was an all business trip for Rick Pitino and his No.12 Louisville Cardinals (21-5, 9-4) as they went into the Sun Dome and handed the USF Bulls (10-15, 1-12) a defeat 59-41.
The Cardinals won the jump ball and raced out to a 4-1 lead before the Bulls got it going and took their first lead at 6-4 after an Anthony Collins three point jumper and Javontae Hawkins dunk on back to back possessions. The Bulls got the lead up to 11-8 at the 13:16 mark but Kevin Ware drained a three from the wing on an assist by Stephan Van Treese to tie it up at 11-11 with 13:01 remaining in the half. After a Collins missed jumper and a subsequent made jumper by Wayne Blackshear on an assist from Peyton Siva, the Cards went up 13-11 with 12:02 remaining and forcing a USF timeout. Louisville would not look back or relinquish their lead the rest of the way and led 32-24 at halftime.
Neither team seemed to be able to find their shooting strokes in the second half and at the first media timeout with 14:44 remaining the Cardinals led 36-26. Louisville controlled the flow of the game and kept the lead at a comfortable 8-10 point range until USF made a little run scoring four straight points to cut the lead to 36-30 at the 12:41 mark. That would be as close as the Bulls would get as the Cardinals defense kicked it into overdrive and turned the Bulls offense over repeatedly while the Louisville offense started getting easy transition buckets and several lob dunks highlighted by a beautiful pass from Siva to Chane Behanan. Not to be outdone, Russ Smith also lobbed a beautiful pass to Montrezl Harrell for a rim rocking dunk that drew ooh’s and ah’s throughout the crowd.
In a 6:27 span the Cardinals turned their six point lead into a game high 22 point lead at 55-33 after yet another dunk by Behanan and assist by Smith. Louisville’s defense was the star of the show, forcing 16 turnovers, blocking 8 shots and grabbing 10 steals. Louisville’s offense was led by Smith, Behanan and Blackshear as the only double digit scorers. Smith led with 15 points while Behanan and Blackshear each had 12 points. Siva only scored two points on 1 of 2 shooting but made several nice passes and led the team with 7 assists. Gorgui Dieng played well with 10 rebounds, 2 steals and 5 blocks to go with 4 points but he challenged almost every USF shot in the paint and was a key factor in the great defensive effort. (Gorgui Dieng was a defensive force blocking 5 shots -Photo by bigstory.ap.org)
USF was led by Jawanza Poland with 11 points and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Hawkins with 9 points each. The Cardinal defense held USF to a horrid 24.5% (13-53) shooting and 25% (5-20) from three-point range and it’s a good thing because the Cardinals offense was not much better shooting 45.8% (22-48) from the field but only 15.4% (2-13) from three-point range. Both teams shot well from the free throw line, hitting 76% each. The Cardinals are off until next Saturday, February 23rd when they host Seton Hall (13-13, 2-11) at noon.