LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In a sloppy, foul-marred game, the No. 12 Louisville Cardinals never trailed and beat the Central Florida Knights 87-70 Saturday night at the KFC Yum! Center.
Senior All-American guard Russ Smith led Louisville (18-4, 7-2 American Athletic Conference) with 27 points, including eight of the Cardinals first 12 and 10 straight points midway through the second half.
Senior forward Luke Hancock had 16 points and five assists, sophomore forward/center Montrezl Harrell 14 points and seven rebounds, and junior forward Wayne Blackshear had 10 points. Blackshear got the start after coming off the bench the previous five games. Harrell slid over to the pivot.
UCF (9-10, 1-7), which has lost six straight, was led by senior forward Tristan Spurlock with 20 points. Senior guard Calvin Newell had 12 points, and junior forward Kasey Wilson had 10. Senior swingman Isaiah Sykes, the team’s leading scorer at 15.6 points-per-game coming in, got just eight and was 2-of-12 from the field. He was guarded most of the game by Blackshear. Sykes did have 11 rebounds.
“I’m proud of our team tonight,” said UCF coach Donnie Jones. “Obviously, we didn’t win, but we’re a team that’s building. This is our first time coming into this environment. … We’re not used to playing at this level. But I’m really proud of the way we came in here and playing against a terrific team; we knew they were coming off a loss and they were going to be a little scrappier, so I was proud of our effort.
“Louisville is a team of runs. They play with great emotion and their defense creates offense and they’ve got guys who can make shots and make plays. Russ Smith and Hancock, there’s a reason they’ve got a banner flying up there.”
UCF was in the bonus just 5:20 into the second half and had just two fouls at that point, but the Knights soon caught up, with both teams in the double bonus with 10:08 left to play.
“It was a very physical game,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. “But you can’t get mad at the officials. They call what they see. … The fans get all upset, but we have to adapt to the new rules.”
After getting off to a 12-1 start, Louisville led 37-27 at the half. The Cardinals scored the first five points of the second half, and UCF got no closer than nine points thereafter.
Smith had eight of the first 12 points for the Cardinals, hitting two 3-pointers and making two free throws.
Central Florida made just one of his first 11 shots from the field. The Knights then warmed up, hitting six of their next 12, several on runouts, and closed the gap to 26-21 with 6:38 left in the half.
Louisville made eight of its first 14 shots from the floor and then cooled, hitting just two of its next 12 and going four minutes without scoring.
The Cardinals ended the half making 13-of-32 for 41 percent. UCF was 8-of-26 for 31 percent.
Smith led Louisville with 14 first-half points despite sitting out the final six minutes of the half after making two straight sloppy turnovers. He didn’t start the second half either but came in after two minutes.
“The thing about Russ, when he gets balled out, and he got balled out a bunch tonight, he lets it roll off his back,” said Pitino. “He doesn’t care. No matter what you say, he’ll go out and do the same thing. Dribble behind his back in traffic when there’s a wide-open man that he should pass to. … But you have to live with it. He can score a flurry of points so fast. If you take away what he does, you’ll take away his greatness. When we have Senior Night, I’m going to have my second bachelor party.”
Louisville finished making 32-of-62 shots (51.6 percent). UCF was 21-of-55 (38.2 percent). UCF had a 38-35 rebounding edge. The Knights made 16 turnovers to nine for Louisville, which had seven steals to three for UCF.
NOTES: Only two players who started against Louisville when it won 90-65 on Dec. 31 — F Isaiah Sykes and G Calvin Newell — are still starting for UCF. Sykes had 19 points and nine rebounds on Dec. 31. Newell had nine
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