NCAA BK

Thu, Nov 22, 2012 - 9:30 PM ET
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Louisville-N. Iowa Preview

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Louisville has overpowered its first three opponents thanks in large part to suffocating defense. The Cardinals may face a tougher challenge in their next game as they take on an unbeaten opponent that's been strong at both ends of the floor.

Second-ranked Louisville looks to keep rolling when it meets Northern Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas on Thursday night.

The Cardinals (3-0) pounded Miami of Ohio 80-39 on Sunday in their latest lopsided victory. Louisville limited Miami, Samford and Manhattan to 34.8 percent shooting in winning those matchups by an average of 31.7 points.

"We are a defensive team," said coach Rick Pitino, whose squad forced 19 turnovers in concluding a season-opening homestand. "We win with our defense. If we shoot like we did tonight, everything looks great. Shooting, without question, cures a multitude of sins. ...

"That is not us. I am happy we shot it well. I am happy we moved the ball well, but we win because of defense."

The Cardinals' 41-point victory margin over the RedHawks was their largest since a 106-65 win over Chattanooga two years ago. Louisville went 12 of 26 from 3-point range and eight of its first nine baskets were 3s.

That was an encouraging development after the Cardinals struggled to a 15-for-61 mark (24.6 percent) from beyond the arc in the first two games.

"People have been harping on our shooting the whole time," guard Luke Hancock said, "but when we're getting open looks and running the floor as a team, we can make shots."

Junior guard Russ Smith continued his outstanding start with 23 points and went a career-best 5 of 7 from beyond the arc. Smith has been the leading scorer in all three Cardinals victories and is averaging 21.3 points - 9.8 above his average of last season.

While none of Louisville's first three opponents have winning records, the Cardinals' schedule is about to become considerably more formidable. The Battle 4 Atlantis field includes No. 5 Duke, No. 13 Missouri and No. 19 Memphis, while Minnesota received the most votes (93) for a team not in the poll this week.

Northern Iowa could prove to be a difficult opponent as well. The Panthers (3-0) return four starters from last season's 20-14 squad and have looked good offensively and defensively so far.

Northern Iowa is shooting 51.5 percent from the field and like Louisville also relies on the 3-point shot, going a considerably better 28 of 65 (43.1 percent). The Panthers have averaged 86.3 points in their three contests.

Sophomore guard Deon Mitchell leads the Panthers with 17.7 points per game. Three Northern Iowa players are averaging in double figures and nine are averaging at least 4.7.

"We do have some versatility to our team ... and that's going to be a big part of what we do," coach Ben Jacobson said.

The Panthers limited North Dakota to 32.7 percent from the field in a 72-47 home win Saturday. Now Northern Iowa will try to carry the momentum from its fast start into a much tougher stretch of games.

"It's gonna get harder, there's no question about that," Jacobson said.

Louisville and Northern Iowa will be meeting for the first time. The winner faces Missouri or Stanford in the semifinals Friday.

Tagged: Louisville, Iowa, Northern Iowa

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