February 22, 2015

After taking care of business on its own floor following a surprise loss at Clemson two weeks ago, Louisville needs to carry that strong play out on the road.

The No. 17 Cardinals haven't played as well away from home as they need to and will look to start reversing that trend Saturday at Georgia Tech.

Louisville (15-3, 4-1 ACC) faces a challenging back-to-back at home against No. 13 Virginia on Jan. 30 and second-ranked North Carolina two days later, making these next two road games against the Yellow Jackets (11-7, 1-4) and Virginia Tech on Wednesday essential to maintaining some momentum.

Each of the Cardinals' losses have come in true road games, and the average of 71.0 points they've allowed in those four contests is quite a bit higher than the 54.3 they're surrendering at home. Granted, two of the losses came against Michigan State and Kentucky, which have both spent time at No. 1 this season.

The caliber of the next two opponents isn't as strong, but Rick Pitino isn't taking them lightly. The Cardinals coach anticipates a tough inside game against 6-foot-8, 255-pound forward Charles Mitchell, whose 16.5 rebounds per 40 minutes ranks seventh in the nation and is one of four in double figures for Georgia Tech in that category.

Mitchell hauled in 14 rebounds to help the Yellow Jackets to a 40-34 edge on the glass in the previous meeting Feb. 23, and Louisville needed to rally from a 13-point deficit in the final 10 minutes for a 52-51 win in which it shot 37 percent.

"Georgia Tech's got two guys built like (Chinanu Onuaku)," Pitino said, referring to his own 6-10, 245-pound center. "Very strong low-post game, very physical in everything they do, and Virginia Tech brings as much energy as any team we'll face this year.

"So we've got two very difficult road games and we've got to be ready for it."

Mitchell, who averages 12.2 points, has helped the Yellow Jackets to a plus-8.3 rebounding differential that's impressive in light of their mediocre record and the company it puts them in. That number is one of four in the ACC at plus-8 or better, and the other three are Pitt - which just fell out of the rankings - UNC and Louisville.

The Cardinals appear well suited to containing Mitchell and Tech's interior game, ranking second in the nation both with a plus-12.3 rebounding margin and in opposing two-point field-goal percentage at 39.2. Their 15.2 offensive rebounds per game, which ranks seventh, also proves they're controlling play in the paint.

Louisville certainly did that in Wednesday's 84-65 victory over Florida State, with Pitino noting afterward that his team's 57 touches in the lane was a program record.

"I don't know what we could have done better on offense and defense," said Pitino, whose team allowed the Seminoles to shoot 42.4 percent after holding the then-No. 20 Panthers to 28.6 in a 59-41 win Jan. 14.

"I just think we're getting better and better at all phases of the game."

Georgia Tech has had a rough time since conference play began, losing four of five with the lone win a 68-64 stunner against then-No. 4 Virginia on Jan. 9 - and one of the keys to that victory was a 41-29 rebounding edge.

"Obviously a top-20 team with great talent both in the post and on the perimeter," coach Brian Gregory said of Louisville. "So we're gonna have to play extremely well. We've got to take care of the ball, you've got to do a great job defensively and you've got to do a great job on the glass."

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