Louisville-Coll. of Charleston Preview

Charleston has already surprised one Top 25 team this season,

and coach Rick Pitino and Louisville aren’t taking the Cougars

lightly.

The Cardinals’ latest performance is another reason why.

Pitino wants to see improvement defensively as the fifth-ranked

Cardinals play their first true road game Tuesday night against

upset-minded Charleston.

Charleston (5-2) has won four in a row behind strong defensive

play, allowing 39.2 percent shooting from the field – including

25.6 percent from beyond the arc. That stretch includes a 63-59 win

at then-No. 24 Baylor on Nov. 24, and that performance isn’t lost

on Pitino.

He also may be wary of the matchup after Louisville (6-1)

narrowly avoided an upset of its own Saturday in beating Illinois

State 69-66, as the Redbirds missed two potential game-tying 3s in

the final seconds.

Plus, Charleston put a scare into the Cardinals last Dec. 20,

losing 69-62 at Louisville after leading by four at halftime.

“Charleston is obviously, like (Illinois State), one of the

teams in the country that could surprise a lot of people. They

already surprised Baylor at Baylor. They won’t surprise us,” Pitino

said. “They could win, but they won’t surprise us because with two

minutes to go in the game last year at (home), it was anybody’s

game.

“We’re going into a hornets’ nest. We realize that, and we’ve

got to be ready to play.”

Pitino’s team has struggled defensively while adjusting without

center Gorgui Dieng, who will be missing a third game with a broken

left wrist.

The Cardinals have allowed opponents to shoot 47.1 percent from

the field over the last three games, giving up a season-high 52.1

to Illinois State – which converted 20 of 29 attempts from inside

the arc.

“Our defense is not as good in the back, obviously with Gorgui

being out and all that pressure,” Pitino said. “We’ve got to

improve.”

Another strong performance from Stephan Van Treese would help.

The junior forward has totaled 14 points and 16 rebounds over the

past two games after totaling four and 13, respectively, in the

first five.

He had two steals and two blocks Saturday, playing a season-high

34 minutes off the bench to fill in for Dieng. That could be reason

enough for Van Treese to get his first start of the season over

Zach Price, who has totaled only four points and three rebounds in

two games since Dieng’s injury.

Still, Louisville may again rely heavily on guards Russ Smith

and Peyton Siva, who combined for 44 points against the

Redbirds.

Smith leads the Cardinals with 19.9 points per game, while Siva

has averaged 17.3 over the past three contests.

Siva wasn’t a factor against in last December’s win, missing all

five field goals and finishing with one point. Smith had 11 off the

bench.

“Offensively, they are very aggressive and will attack you in

transition,” Cougars coach Doug Wojcik said. “It’s coming at a

great time for us with the way we are playing and our confidence

level.”

The Cougars are looking for another upset as they open a

four-game homestand after overcoming a season high-tying 19

turnovers to win 56-54 at Elon on Saturday.

“We will continue to work hard and build on what we have going

right now,” junior forward Willis Hall said.

Hall, coming off a 19-point, 12-rebound effort versus Elon, will

try to capitalize on Louisville’s interior defensive issues and has

averaged 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds over the past three

games.

Andrew Lawrence, who had six points against the Cardinals last

season, is averaging 13.0 points since getting a season-high 22 in

a 71-67 win over Boston College on Nov. 18.