Piscataway, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - The 14th-ranked Louisville Cardinals continue their first run through the American Athletic Conference, as they take on the suddenly surging Rutgers Scarlet Knights at the RAC on Saturday evening.
The defending national champions opened league play this week and made an emphatic statement with a 90-65 win on the road at UCF. The victory gave Rick Pitino's squad some distance from last weekend's 73-66 road loss at rival Kentucky and moved Louisville to 12-2 on the year.
The first year of Eddie Jordan's reign in Piscataway has been uneven to start. The Scarlet Knights are 7-7 on the year, but have moved to .500 with three straight wins, including opening league play a 71-66 win over Temple on New Year's Day.
Louisville has won 11 of the 12 all-time meetings with Rutgers. These two teams are short-term conference foes, as Louisville moves to the ACC next season, while Rutgers is off to the Big Ten.
The Cardinals are hitting their peak as conference play gets underway. In the rout of UCF this week, Louisville raced out to a 23-4 lead and finished the game by draining a season-high 14 3-pointers. All-American candidate Russ Smith had another huge game, just missing out on a double-double with 24 points and nine assists. Smith, who was 8-of-14 shooting, knocked down 6-of-10 from behind the arc. Luke Hancock added 16 points off the bench, while Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier finished with 15 and 11 points, respectively.
Louisville has performed exceptionally well across the board this season and as a result, enjoys a +23.5 scoring margin, averaging 85.0 ppg, while allowing just 61.4. In addition, the team leads the nation in turnover margin (+8.2) and ranks sixth nationally in turnovers committed (9.6 per game). Smith is a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate, averaging 17.4 points and 5.2 assists per game. Chris Jones is a solid complement in the backcourt with 13.2 ppg, while Harrell handles the bulk of the work in the paint, averaging 12.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Wayne Blackshear (9.8 ppg) gives the team another gunner on the wing, as he, Smith and Jones have combined for 76 of the team's 119 3-pointers to date.
The Scarlet Knights may not have the offensive arsenal that Louisville possesses, but Rutgers is a strong team in its own right at that end of the floor, averaging 77.2 ppg on a healthy .453 shooting. Myles Mack can score (16.1 ppg), distribute (4.4 apg) and play shutdown defense (2.1 apg). Kadeem Jack (14.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg) adds balance up front. J.J. Moore (12.6 ppg) rounds out the double-digit scorers on the roster, although Jerome Seagears (9.5 ppg) and Wally Judge (9.1 ppg) aren't far off the mark.
Jack was 8-of-12 from the floor against Temple and led Rutgers with 18 points in the win over the Owls. Judge and Moore added 12 points apiece, while Mack finished with 10 points, to go with six assists and seven rebounds. The Scarlet Knights shot a steady .459 from the floor, while holding Temple to a mere .333 performance.