Cougars challenge 18th-ranked Cardinals in AAC action

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Updated: 1/16 11:40 am

Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - American Athletic Conference foes clash on Thursday night, as the Houston Cougars come calling on the 18th-ranked Louisville Cardinals.

Both teams are near the top of the league standings, with Houston sitting in fourth place with a record of 2-1, and Louisville tied for second (Memphis) with a mark of 3-1.

The Cougars are 10-6 overall, and they have split their first four road tilts. The team's most recent outing took place at home however, and resulted in a 61-60 loss to current conference leader Cincinnati. That game was back on Jan. 7, meaning Houston has been idle for more than a week.

Louisville is 14-3 on the season, and the squad is coming off a 71-63 win over visiting SMU last Sunday, helping it make amends for a 73-67 home loss to Memphis three days prior. Overall, the Cardinals are 10-1 at the KFC Yum! Center this season, and they are a staggering 60-8 there in the four years the arena has been open.

Louisville has won 13 of the previous 18 meetings in the series with Houston, including all seven prior encounters on its home court. The Cardinals have won eight of the last nine meetings, and the teams will meet again in Houston on Feb. 5.

Houston enters this fray averaging 72.0 ppg behind typical shooting efforts of .457 overall and .364 from 3-point range, while permitting 67.4 ppg, with foes shooting 41.6 percent from the field and 34.0 percent from beyond the arc. The team boasts three active double-digit scorers, as a fourth (Danuel House, 15.6 ppg) is out indefinitely with a knee injury. TaShawn Thomas (17.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg) is far and away the team's most effective performer, and he gets help, albeit marginal, from Jherrod Stiggers (10.3 ppg) and L.J. Rose (10.1 ppg, 5.1 apg). Rose is listed as questionable for this contest, as he continues to deal with foot injury that has kept him out of action in multiple games this season.

Brandon Morris drained five 3-pointers in posting 17 points in the recent loss to Cincinnati. Stiggers chipped in with 11 and Thomas had 10 for the Cougars, who shot only 41.2 percent from the floor, but connected on 9-of-19 3-point tries. Defensively, they held the Bearcats to just 36.7 percent field goal efficiency, including 29.2 percent from downtown. They won the rebounding battle (41-37), but committed nearly twice as many turnovers (15-8).

Louisville continues to shine at both ends of the court, as the team is putting up 83.0 ppg while allowing only 63.1 ppg. The Cardinals are also in the black with regard to rebounding (+3.4) and turnover (+7.0) margins, with the latter figure ranking them second in the nation. They force nearly 18 giveaways per game, and their opponents shoot just 40 percent from the field, which includes a 30.4 percent showing from long range. UofL has four double- digit scorers, led by Russ Smith and his 18.1 ppg. Not only a scorer, Smith also sets up his teammates with regularity, handing out 4.9 apg. Montrezl Harrell (11.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Chris Jones (11.3 ppg) and Luke Hancock (10.5 ppg) have all contributed when called upon.

Smith and Hancock each scored 23 points to lead Louisville to its recent win over SMU, as the team made good on 47.2 percent of its field goal attempts, knocking down 10-of-23 3-point tries along the way. Neither team shot well from the foul line (SMU .520, UofL .524), but the Cardinals stood tall against the 3-pointer, allowing the Mustangs only 2-of-11 success, while also goading them into 16 turnovers. Harrell logged a double-double in the win by netting 12 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.

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