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Cardinals collide with Owls in AAC action

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Updated: 2/27 10:09 am

Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - Two teams at opposite ends of the American Athletic Conference standings will meet on Thursday night, as the seventh-ranked Louisville Cardinals play host to the Temple Owls at the KFC Yum! Center.

Fran Dunphy's Owls have run a gauntlet of late as this game marks Temple's fifth straight ranked opponent. The Owls have lost two straight and six of their last seven games after an 82-79 overtime heartbreaker at Memphis this past weekend that dropped the team to a mere 2-12 in league play.

The defending national champions are at the other extreme and can pull even with Cincinnati atop the league ladder with a win here. Rick Pitino's Cardinals have won six straight games to move to 12-2 in the AAC and are coming off a thrilling 58-57 road win at Cincinnati last weekend.

Temple holds a 4-2 edge in the all-time series with Louisville, but the Cardinals won easily at Temple just two weeks ago, 82-58.

The Owls played one of their best games of the season but it didn't result in a win, as Temple dropped an overtime affair at FedExForum this past weekend. Temple rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit to force overtime, but went just 2-of-10 from the floor in the extra session. Three Owls finished with 20 or more points in the setback. Will Cummings led the way with 24 points and six assists. Quenton DeCosey poured in 23 points, while Dalton Pepper finished with 20.

The Owls have not been used to offensive explosions like that on the season, with Temple shooting a mere .426 from the field, while netting a modest 73.2 ppg. Pepper has stepped into a leadership role this season and has delivered to the tune of 17.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Cummings has put up big numbers as well at 16.3 ppg, followed closely by DeCosey and Anthony Lee with 15.2 and 13.8 ppg, respectively. However, no other player on the roster is averaging more than 6.7 ppg.

Louisville has had no problems offensively this season, as the defending champs are putting up an impressive 82.1 ppg on a healthy .478 shooting. All- American candidate Russ Smith is the straw that stirs the drink, as he leads the team in scoring (17.5 ppg), assists (4.5 apg) and steals (50). Montrezl Harrell (13.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg) is the perfect complement in the frontcourt. Luke Hancock (11.8 ppg), Chris Jones (10.2 ppg) and Wayne Blackshear (9.3 ppg) provide plenty of depth.

Smith provided the heroics in the big win at Cincinnati last weekend, hitting a jumper with 2.2 seconds left on the clock to propel the Cardinals to victory. Louisville held a nine-point lead with just over five minutes left, but needed Smith's final points to come back for the win. Harrell was effective, recording a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Terry Rozier added 11 points off the bench, while Smith, who struggled at 3-of-10 from the floor, chipped in with 10 points.

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