Louisville hasn’t lost back-to-back games in more than a year, and there’s little reason to think that will change Saturday night.
The 12th-ranked Cardinals had no problem winning at Central Florida in their American Athletic Conference debut, and they can avoid a second consecutive home loss by having another dominant performance against the slumping Knights.
Louisville (17-4, 6-2) hasn’t endured a losing streak since a three-gamer last Jan. 19-26, and it went on to lose only once in its final 20 games to win the national title. All four of the Cardinals’ defeats this season have been to ranked teams, and they came back to win by an average of 21.3 points after the first three.
They rallied from a 17-point deficit in the second half Thursday to take the lead against No. 13 Cincinnati but went cold after that in a 69-66 loss. Louisville missed its final five shots, including Luke Hancock’s 3-pointer in the final seconds, and Terry Rozier scored his team’s only points down the stretch on two free throws.
The Cardinals dropped 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Bearcats in the AAC.
"A conference championship is nice, but I think everybody on this team has their eyes set higher," said Hancock, averaging 15.9 points in AAC play. "We’ve got to make a lot of changes and get a lot better if we want to make that run and do what we’ve done the last couple years."
Coach Rick Pitino’s team recorded season lows for rebounds (25) and steals (three) as it had a four-game winning streak snapped.
"We had them rattled and we let the game get away from us," Pitino said. "I’m proud of the effort, but I’m not proud of the defensive execution or the rebounding.
"We only have a day to prepare and get ready for Central Florida. We can’t hang our heads, and we’ve got to get ready."
It’s a similar situation to when the Cardinals faced UCF on Dec. 31. They were coming off a loss in a big game – 73-66 to archrival Kentucky – and rolled to a 90-65 win over the Knights to open AAC play. Russ Smith had 24 points, including six 3-pointers, and nine assists as Louisville outshot UCF 54.8 percent to 35.0.
While the Cardinals have won their last 28 games against unranked teams, the Knights have lost by double digits in all three matchups with Top 25 foes and in five straight road games.
UCF (9-9, 1-6) has lost five in a row overall by an average of 14.6 points, including a 69-59 home loss to No. 22 Memphis on Wednesday. The Knights scored just five points in the final 8:52.
Leading scorer Isaiah Sykes (15.6 ppg) had 24 points, but only one teammate finished in double figures – Matt Williams with 13 points.
"I’m proud of this basketball team. We’ve gotten better in a lot of ways. I think we’re growing," coach Donnie Jones said. "We just need to compete and work. There’s no time for feeling sorry for ourselves. We’ll just get back to work."
Sykes had 19 points in the loss to Louisville, but no other UCF player had more than eight. The Knights are 0-2 against the Cardinals and fell 78-58 in their only other visit to Louisville on Dec. 15, 1999.