Top 25 foes collide in AAC affair

12:04 PM, Jan 9, 2014   |    comments
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Louisville, KY ( - A pair of Top 25 teams collide at the KFC Yum! Center on Thursday evening, as the 12th-ranked Louisville Cardinals play host to the 24th-ranked Memphis Tigers in a key American Athletic Conference matchup.

The defending national champions have gotten off to a fast start in league play, topping both UCF (90-65) and Rutgers (83-76) on the road. With the victories, Rick Pitino's Cardinals are now an impressive 13-2 on the season with the losses coming against powers North Carolina and Kentucky.

Josh Pastner's Tigers are 10-3 on the season, and have split a pair of conference games, with a win over USF on the road (88-73) followed by a home loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats, 69-53.

Louisville holds a 53-34 advantage all-time against Memphis and has won four straight in the series. The Cardinals are 30-11 against the Tigers at home.

A string of 12 straight conference home opening wins came to and end for Memphis last weekend as the Tigers fell to the Bearcats by 16 points, the largest margin in conference play for Memphis since a 25-point setback to Cincinnati during the 1998-99 campaign. Senior guard Joe Jackson led the team in scoring with 13 points in the loss. Michael Dixon Jr. added 12 points.

Memphis is a strong offensive team, averaging 80.5 ppg on a solid .472 shooting. The team isn't very efficient from long range (.290), but does hold a +2.8 rebounding edge, as well as a +4.1 turnover margin. Jackson headlines the offensive attack at 15.0 ppg. Shaq Goodwin is second in the scoring column (12.3 ppg), while leading the way on the boards (6.8 rpg). Dixon (11.4 ppg) hasn't started many games this season (4), but has been instrumental off the bench for the most part.

Some of the names have changed since last season, but the rate at which Louisville is racking up victories hasn't. The Cardinals are getting the job done at both ends of the floor this year and are enjoying a +22.5 scoring margin as a result. The team is shooting .474 from the floor overall, resulting in a hefty 84.9 ppg. All-American candidate Russ Smith leads the way as both a potent scorer (17.7 ppg) and deft distributor (4.9 apg). Chris Jones (12.6 ppg) adds to the strong play in the backcourt, while depth comes in the form of forwards Montrezl Harrell (11.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Wayne Blackshear (10.0 ppg).

Smith went 14-of-16 from the free-throw line and finished with a game-high 22 points in Louisville's road win at Rutgers. Three other Cardinals finished in double figures, with Luke Hancock (15 pts), Terry Rozier (14 pts) and Blackshear (13 pts) all getting involved. Louisville used its physical play to get to the free-throw line a whopping 46 times in the game, converting 41 free-throw attempts.

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