Russ Smith scores 24 as No. 7 Louisville rolls past Temple
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When preseason All-America guard Russ Smith is playing his best, defending national champion Louisville looks like one of the nation's top teams again.
When he gets the kind of help he got from teammates Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier in Thursday night's 88-66 rout of Temple, the seventh-ranked Cardinals appear nearly unstoppable.
Smith had 24 points, moving into ninth place on the school's career scoring list, Harrell added 21 and freshman Terry Rozier scored a career-high 19 as Louisville capped a perfect February with its seventh straight victory.
The trio combined to shoot 25 of 34 from the field and nearly outscored Temple all by themselves. Louisville shot 53 percent (32 of 60) and has won 13 of its last 15 games.
Louisville's fast-paced attack usually starts with Smith and often finishes with a dunk from Harrell. Smith was 8 of 12 from the field and 7 for 8 from the free throw line. Harrell shot 9 of 12 and had four dunks to extend his school record of 69 slams on the season.
"The ball is flowing great," Smith said. "We're pushing the ball and that's important. ... Just being able to get out and put the pressure on the defense makes for a great team offensively."
The Cardinals had 21 fast-break points to two for Temple.
"Those two, it's a lot of transition," Owls guard Will Cummings said of Smith and Harrell. "That's where they really hurt us. We were taking a lot of bad shots sometimes on offense. That kind of led to their transition and that's what they thrive off."
Five days after drawing within a half-game of first-place Cincinnati with a road win over the Bearcats, the Cardinals (24-4, 13-2 American Athletic Conference) followed up by completing a season sweep of the outmanned Owls (7-20, 2-13).
Cummings scored 18 points and Quenton DeCosey added 17 for the Owls. Temple has lost 15 of 17 since New Year's Day, including an eight-game losing streak to start 2014.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said this season's squad could be better on offense than last year's title-winning team when newcomers Rozier and Chris Jones are factored in, along with last year's Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock.
"I think we have a lot of really good offensive weapons who can put the ball on the floor," Pitino said. "We are not as good defensively as last year, but we are a better offensive team from an efficiency standpoint."
Rozier shot 8 of 10 from the field, including 3 of 4 on 3-pointers. Jones had a season-high eight assists and Hancock hit three 3s to score nine points.
Smith has high praise for Rozier, the poised freshman who passed up the last shot to find his senior captain for the game-winner against Cincinnati.
"Terry Rozier is a sponge," Smith said. "He wants to learn. He's determined to be probably the best player in the country. He's going to be that real soon. I'm just very thankful and fortunate to be around a freshman like that.
"If he was a starter somewhere else or playing starter minutes (here), people would really be talking about him the way they talk about a lot of these other freshmen."
After Temple scored the opening basket, the Cardinals clicked off a 13-0 run that established their dominance. They were quickly up 24-6 just more than 7 minutes into the game before Temple responded with a 7-0 spurt that cut the Louisville lead to single digits.
The Owls again pulled within nine on Cummings' baseline jumper with 5:34 left in the first half, the closest they would come the rest of the game. Smith and Cummings led their teams with 13 points each at the break as Louisville led 42-29 at halftime.
Louisville was even better in the second half, stretching its 67-47 lead with 9:55 left to 28 points in less than 2 minutes. The Cardinals' largest lead was 29 with 1:15 remaining before Temple scored the final seven points.