By Sam Draut
Russ Smith started hot, scoring ten points in the first five minutes as twelfth ranked Louisville defeated Central Florida 87-70.
Smith hit his first three-pointer seven seconds into the game and two possessions later connected with his second three-pointer. Smith finished with 27 points and five rebounds.
“Louisville is a team of runs. They play with great emotion and their defense creates offense for them, and they’ve got guys who can make shots and make plays. Russ Smith and obviously (Luke) Hancock,” UCF head coach Donnie Jones said. “Those guys know how to make plays, and they got off to a good start.”
Luke Hancock added 16 points and five assists. Hancock was the game’s assist leader and also grabbed four rebounds.
“If you watch him in the last few games, he goes by everybody and you would say he’s not going to win to many foot races but he’s very ball-quick and you have to play him because of his shot,” Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino said. “He’s playing very good basketball right now. He’s the one guy on the team I’m really happy with.”
Louisville, 18-4, burst out to a 20-6 lead to start the game, but then fought through a sluggish final ten minutes to take a 37-27 lead to halftime.
“We played lethargic at certain points and we can’t do that,” Smith said. “We have to keep the pressure on.”
Through the first eleven minutes of the game, Smith, Hancock, and Harrell were the only Cardinal scorers.
Harrell finished the game scoring 14 points and pulling down seven rebounds.
“I think Montrezl is playing well,” Pitino said. “Offensively, he is really improving. He is getting better and better.”
After coming off the bench in four consecutive games, Wayne Blackshear returned to the starting lineup alongside Hancock. Blackshear played extended minutes at the power forward position and finished with ten points and six rebounds.
“It gives us another opportunity to have another shooter on the floor,” Blackshear said. “It gives us opportunities to spread the floor, which gives me the opportunity to score the ball better.”
With the smaller lineup playing a majority of the time, freshman center Mangok Mathiang logged just two minutes of action.
UCF out rebounded the Cardinals 38-35, including 16 offensive rebounds off of 31 missed field goals.
“For us to be dominant we have to be even or better on the glass,” Stephan Van Treese said.
Van Treese contributed with six points and six rebounds off the bench.
“Van Treese coming in off the bench is excellent, excellent. He does the hustle things that you need, like Tim Henderson does. When he starts then they play five versus four often because he doesn’t like to score besides a follow or put back,” Pitino said.
Louisville will face Houston on Wednesday in Texas. The Cardinals won the previous meeting 91-52 at the KFC YUM! Center in mid-January.