Terry Rozier has become the go-to guy for No. 9 Louisville
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Of all the scenarios Louisville sophomore guard Terry Rozier imagined, having a breakout season with two-thirds of it left to play wasn't on the list.
On the other hand, Rozier believed good things would result from seizing opportunities that are coming his way quite regularly lately.
Rozier enters Saturday night's Atlantic Coast Conference showdown at third-ranked Virginia (20-1, 8-1) leading the No. 9 Cardinals (19-3, 7-2) and the league in scoring at 18.5 points per game. He's averaging a league-best 20.4 points in ACC contests and is second to teammate Chris Jones in steals at 2.1 per game.
Louisville features preseason All-American Montrezl Harrell, but the versatile Rozier has quietly become Louisville's go-to guy with a 21-point average the past 15 games.
''I didn't go into the season thinking about leading the team in scoring, but I've put in a lot of work that I needed to progress,'' Rozier said.
Even if Rozier's intention wasn't to be the high-scoring guard like Cardinals' All-American predecessor Russ Smith, he isn't shying away from the role or contact. In fact, his most impressive quality has been going into traffic for rebounds against taller opponents.
Rozier's muscular 6-foot-1 frame has allowed him to absorb the pounding along with a mindset that bumps and bruises are part of the game. That attitude developed back in Youngstown, Ohio, where the industrial city's hard-edged personality was reflected on the basketball courts where anything he got meant going after it on both ends.
''With one goal, it was everybody for themselves and that's where the toughness came from,'' Rozier said. ''I've never been afraid to go against guys a little bit bigger than me.''
Rozier has carried that approach over to his Louisville career, but the difference now is that he tries to find teammates before doing it himself.
''Anything that coach (Rick Pitino) needs me to do, I'll get in there and do it,'' added Rozier, whose 5.5 boards per game are second to Harrell (9.2). ''It's something he emphasizes, and I make sure it happens for him.''
Rozier's whatever-it-takes philosophy was evident in last Saturday's overtime win against No. 13 North Carolina, when his first career double-double (22 points, 10 rebounds) helped Louisville overcome a double-digit second half deficit. He followed up with another 22-point effort in Tuesday night's win at Miami that came a day after being named ACC co-player of the week.
That outing was also another example of Louisville's developing cohesion that will be needed against the league-leading Cavaliers. Cooperation has never been an issue between Rozier and Jones in their two seasons together, but the Cardinals' four consecutive wins since losing to Duke symbolize how quickly they've regrouped.
Not surprisingly, Louisville's backcourt duo has done a lot to set the tone.
''I'm sure they're very good friends, but they really click together on the basketball court,'' Pitino said Thursday, noting one particular play against the Hurricanes where Jones made a diving steal and passed ahead to Rozier, who was fouled.
''Chris joked with Terry that he at least could have made the basket to get me the assist for all that. They've got great chemistry, they're a terrific backcourt.''
Sometimes compared to Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, Rozier scored a floater against the `Canes with a Wade-like fake and spin. He joked that ''it just happened'', but doing it down the road from Wade's home court only fuels speculation that Rozier might join him in the NBA next season.
Pitino added that Rozier has a pro game and mentality, and some draft blogs have projected him as a first-round selection. Rozier plays down the talk, choosing to focus on a college career that has followed form in every way, albeit ahead of his timetable.
''I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it, because any kid thinks about that opportunity,'' Rozier said. ''It feels good but you always want to stay focused. Being a great basketball player means you want to be mature about the situation and focus on your current situation and for me, it's college basketball.''