Louisville coach Rick Pitino is concerned the smart play and pressure defense that were constants throughout last season's national title run might be lacking in this year's squad.
That doesn't bode well heading into a matchup with SMU, which seeks its second straight win over a ranked opponent.
After having their home win streak snapped, the 12th-ranked Cardinals are hoping to regroup on their own floor Sunday when they take on coach Larry Brown's Mustangs.
Louisville (13-3, 2-1 American Athletic Conference) made mistakes on both ends of the floor as its 15-game run at home came to an end with a 73-67 loss to No. 24 Memphis on Thursday.
The Cardinals led 64-59 following Montrezl Harrell's one-handed slam with 3:50 to play, but found themselves tied 37 seconds later after they fouled the Tigers on a dunk, leading to a three-point play.
'We got confused a couple of times with the game on the line with what defense we're in,' Pitino said. 'We didn't get confused one time last year.'
That's particularly bothersome for Pitino since he's welcomed back several important players from that defensive-minded championship team, including preseason All-American Russ Smith and Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock.
After limiting opponents to a 38.0 field-goal percentage over their previous six contests, the Cardinals allowed Memphis to shoot 50.9 percent from the field.
'You have to be a defensive player to be a leader; you can't be an offensive player,' Pitino said. 'It takes defense to win."
The Cardinals also made their share of errors offensively, and failed to score down the stretch after taking a 67-66 lead with 2:12 remaining. They had 14 more giveaways after committing a season-high 17 in an 83-76 win at Rutgers on Jan. 4.
Louisville was only plus-1.0 in turnovers against Memphis despite ranking in the top five nationally with a plus-7.4 margin.
The Cardinals hope to take advantage of another opportunity to correct things, though it isn't likely to be easy against SMU (11-3, 1-1). The Mustangs are coming off a 74-65 home win over then-No. 17 Connecticut on Jan. 4, their first victory over a ranked opponent since December 2003.
'There's really no fixing it but to just win a game,' said Smith, averaging a team-best 17.8 per game. 'That cures all sicknesses.'
In a matchup featuring two of the nation's five active Hall of Fame coaches, Brown's SMU program will try to win consecutive games against ranked opponents for the first time since the 1955-56 season.
"We're in a great league with a great school in a great city," Brown said. "Now it's up to us as coaches to make (the team) better."
The Mustangs should be a difficult test for Pitino's defense since they rank in the top 10 nationally with a 50.2 field-goal percentage and 41.3 3-point shooting.
Nic Moore leads the Mustangs with 13.9 points per game and shoots 54.7 percent from 3-point range - one of the top marks in the country. He scored 20 and hit 3 of 4 from long range as SMU won its first home game as a member of the AAC.
The Mustangs rank among the nation's top 15 in rebounding margin at plus-8.9. while Louisville has been outrebounded in five straight games.
SMU, among the top five in the country in defensive field-goal percentage (35.8), should keep a close watch on Hancock. The senior swingman is averaging 17.0 points in his last three games after scoring a season-high 20 in Thursday's loss.
The Cardinals have won six of eight all-time matchups, but the teams haven't met since Louisville's 87-79 victory in the 1987 Rainbow Classic in Honolulu.
The Associated Press News Service
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