By Sam Draut–
No. 11 Louisville celebrated the careers of the four seniors who have seen the most wins in their careers in Cardinal history as Louisville routed No. 19 Connecticut 81-48 on Saturday at the KFC YUM! Center.
Stephan Van Treese, Tim Henderson, Luke Hancock, and Russ Smith were all honored before the game, then started and played integral roles in the Cardinals first victory over a ranked team at home this season.
Montrezl Harrell led Louisville (26-5) with 20 points and 11 rebounds, his ninth double-double of the season.
“He’s an incredible basketball player right now. He’s improved his passing. He’s improved his dribbling. He’s improved his one-on-one moves,” coach Rick Pitino said.
Hancock paced the seniors in scoring, hitting four three-pointers, finishing with 16 points and three rebounds.
But Smith stole the show, passing his way to a career high 13 assists. In 30 minutes of play, Smith took just two shots from the field, scoring three points and adding four steals.
“I can’t ever imagine Russ Smith, knowing him, on senior night, would pass up all opportunities to score and get 13 assists. It shows you how much he has grown,” Pitino said. “He got to play point guard and he knows the role of a point guard, which is pass before shot.”
Van Treese, starting his ninth consecutive game, pulled down a season high 13 rebounds and scored six points.
“We need him to play exactly the way he played,” Pitino said. “We need him because now he’s a legitimate player that helps us win the game so now we fully expect him to play that way every night.”
Tim Henderson logged 14 minutes in his first career start and scored two points.
Louisville opened the game on a 17-5 run through the first eight minutes. Connecticut (24-7) started the game 0 of 8 from the field, but settled in an trailed 30-18 at halftime.
“If we can play that stifling defense, we are a tough team,” Pitino said. “We have been playing 90-100% man this season, and tonight we went all zone, which I thought we played awesome.”
Connecticut’s offensive struggles stemmed from a poor performance from the Huskie’s backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. UConn’s two leading scorers combined for 13 points on 4 of 24 shooting from the field.
“The biggest focus on the game was wearing those two guys out physically without fouling,” Pitino said.
After going five games without hitting a three-pointer, Wayne Blackshear connected with three on Saturday and finished with 11 points.
Chris Jones added 10 points off the bench.
With the win, Louisville won a share of the AAC regular season title with Cincinnati.
“We are happy with it, as long as we have a share of it,” Pitino said. “I think that is great and they have had a terrific season. We are excited about it. We will share it with anybody and we had a great season. I am very proud of our guys. ”