December 29, 2014

Louisville was the most recent casualty of the undisputed top team in the country, but it now has a chance to be the latest in a lengthy line to victimize Long Beach State.

The fifth-ranked Cardinals conclude their non-conference schedule Tuesday against the beaten-down 49ers, for whom league play probably can't come soon enough.

Louisville (11-1) begins its first season of ACC play on Sunday at Wake Forest, but it'll first be looking for a bounce-back effort after Saturday's 58-50 home loss to No. 1 Kentucky.

"A loss right before this is probably good for us," said Terry Rozier, who scored a game-high 15 points and is averaging 20.0 over the past six games. "Maybe it will humble each and every one of us and we'll be ready for ACC play."

Rozier shot 5 of 18, fellow guard Chris Jones hit 3 of 15 for 13 points, and Montrezl Harrell was the only starter with a respectable shooting line at 4 of 9 for nine points.

In all, the Cardinals shot 25.9 percent. It hasn't been uncommon for Kentucky to cause those kind of struggles, but Louisville's have been season long, shooting 42.7 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from 3-point range.

"We've really hit some dry spots in our offense and we can't have that," said Harrell, who added eight rebounds in his return from a one-game suspension. "When we go into games we know that our defense is what really causes us to really get out on the break and get stops, but still we can't have dry spells in our offense."

The Cardinals more than made up for it defensively on their season-opening 11-game winning streak. Even Kentucky had its difficulties, shooting 42.0 percent and tying a season high with 18 turnovers.

Louisville is among the national leaders in both of those categories, holding opponents to 34.9 percent from the field and forcing 18.9 turnovers per game.

"We knew that we would play good defense," coach Rick Pitino said. "We knew we'd force turnovers. It was a question of whether we could score, and the answer was we didn't."

There should be some improvement against Long Beach State (5-9).

The 49ers' strength of schedule ranks fifth in the RPI, though it seems to be taking its toll. They've dropped five straight with Sunday's 85-67 loss at Syracuse being preceded by three consecutive losses to Top 25 foes.

After a 60-59 loss at then-No. 18 San Diego State on Dec. 10, things have gradually gotten worse. The 49ers fell 78-68 at then-No. 9 Texas on Dec. 20, two days before losing 66-49 at then-No. 17 St. John's.

Offensively, the 49ers have fallen on hard times, shooting 38.3 percent in six games this month.

It was the second-half defensive effort, though, that they were hung up on after the loss to the Orange. On the losing streak, opponents are shooting 50.4 percent.

"You can't go on the road and let somebody shoot 71 percent in the second half and think realistically you're going to win," coach Dan Monson said.

Mike Caffey, Tyler Lamb and Eric McKnight each scored 14 points, and Caffey is averaging a team-high 17.6. The senior guard hasn't shied away from the tough matchups, scoring 18.7 per game while shooting 9 of 15 from 3-point range in three games against ranked foes.

Those are part of the team's 10-game skid against the Top 25, losing by an average of 17.6 points.

Louisville's 35 straight home wins against unranked opponents have come by an average of 26.0 points.

The only previous meeting was a 79-66 Louisville home win Nov. 28, 2011.

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