Louisville proved to be dominant on its own floor throughout an early home-heavy schedule. Now the Cardinals are about to find out what they're made of on the road.
With a date against rival Kentucky looming, No. 6 Louisville will try not to look past Florida International and former Cardinal Rakeem Buckles on Saturday night in their first of four straight road games.
The Cardinals (10-1) appear to be ready for the challenge after Montrezl Harrell led four players in double figures with 17 points in Tuesday's 90-60 victory over visiting Missouri State.
Harrell was one of four players to pull down at least eight rebounds as the defending national champions finished with a 51-30 advantage on the boards in one of their best all-around performances of the season. They also shot 51.5 percent from the field while holding the Bears to 37.9 percent.
"Defensively, we were brilliant," coach Rick Pitino said. "Offensive rebounding was spectacular. When you get 20 offensive rebounds and almost shoot 52 percent, you are gaining so many possessions."
The Cardinals have won nine straight at home by an average of 30.9 points, with only Western Kentucky coming within 20 points of Louisville there in a 79-63 loss last Saturday.
Point guard Chris Jones did not play in that contest because of a sprained right wrist, but he returned to finish with nine points in 19 minutes in Tuesday's win.
Though the Cardinals have averaged 88.2 points on 49.5 percent shooting in Louisville, they've totaled 155 points with a 38.6 field-goal percentage in splitting two contests away from home. They also gave up a season-high point total in a 93-84 loss to North Carolina in the final of the Hall of Fame Tipoff on Nov. 24.
Louisville won't play again at home for nearly a month as it visits the Golden Panthers (8-4) and No. 19 Kentucky on Dec. 28 before opening AAC play at UCF and Rutgers.
"FIU is a trap game and you will hear that from several people," Pitino said. "This is probably going to be their first sell-out in the history of their school. It is a very good home-court advantage. We have to be ready for this game, and we know that. I think our guys will be because they are a mature group."
They'll be facing one player they're rather familiar with. Buckles played three seasons at Louisville, averaging 4.6 points, before transferring after the 2011-12 season and sitting out 2012-13.
He's the Golden Panthers' second-leading scorer at 14.7 points per game and has averaged 13.0 rebounds in his last five games.
"Louisville taught me that it takes hard work to be a great player," Buckles told the team's official website. "There are a lot of good players in college basketball but it takes hard work to be a great player."
The Golden Panthers are 5-0 at home against Division I opponents, though they did lose 77-59 to Division II Nova Southeastern there on Dec. 3. Pitino's club will become the highest-ranked opponent and first defending national champion to visit U.S. Century Bank Arena.
FIU hasn't played since Tymell Murphy scored 23 and Dennis Mavin matched a career high with 19 in a 72-61 victory over Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 7. Murphy has averaged 23.0 points on 29-of-44 shooting in his last four games against Division I teams.
The Cardinals have won the previous two meetings, including a 79-55 home victory last season. Murphy led FIU with 12 points and 12 boards, while Louisville's Wayne Blackshear had 18 points and eight rebounds.
The Golden Panthers are 0-21 all-time against ranked opponents.
The Associated Press News Service
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