January 06, 2016

Louisville coach Rick Pitino has great respect for Anthony ''Cat'' Barber, even though the ACC's leading scorer struggled against his club's defense last season.

Pitino's 16th-ranked Cardinals eliminated Barber and North Carolina State from last year's NCAA Tournament heading into Thursday night's matchup in Raleigh.

Barber leads the conference in scoring with 22.9 points per game, and his 137 foul shots rank among the nation's leaders. Pitino called him "one of the top two or three guards" in the nation.

"I think Cat Barber is one of the premier guards in the nation and I say that not to hype (him) up because we're playing him," Pitino said.

Barber should pose a bigger challenge than he did last season when he averaged 12.1 points.

He struggled with his shooting in both 2014-15 meetings with Louisville (12-2, 1-0), scoring 21 while making 5 of 15 shots in an upset 74-65 victory Feb. 24. The Cardinals held him to eight on 3-of-14 shooting in their 75-65 win in the Sweet 16 on March 27.

One issue for Barber is how he is being forced to shoulder the scoring load with North Carolina State (10-4, 0-1) losing top scorers Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner from last season's club. Barber is averaging 38.9 minutes to rank second in the country.

''I feel good right now,'' Barber said. ''I just get my rest, get treatment to keep my legs fresh. But I'm kind of used to it now going into ACC play throughout the year, so I feel pretty good.''

The Wolfpack need someone other than Barber to step up since West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson is still weeks away from returning following surgery for an opening-night ankle injury.

Sophomore swingman Caleb Martin got off to a strong start as a No. 2 scorer, but he's averaged 6.2 points and shot 22 percent over the past six games. His twin, Cody, is essentially the backup point guard.

Freshman Maverick Rowan (12.6 points) has had some good moments but has been up and down, while sophomore Abdul-Malik Abu (10.8 points) is leading a frontcourt that doesn't provide much scoring.

The Wolfpack seek to avoid their first 0-2 ACC start since 2009-10. They fell 73-68 in overtime at Virginia Tech on Saturday despite Barber's 21 points.

Louisville won 65-57 over Wake Forest on Sunday in its conference opener. Freshman Donovan Mitchell scored 18 in his first start and Chinanu Onuaku added 12 and 15 rebounds.

The Cardinals' top two scorers are transfers. Damion Lee averages 17.6 points after coming over from Drexel, and Trey Lewis is at 14.3 after previously playing for Penn State and Cleveland State.

Louisville went 7-3 on the road last season and is 0-2 in this one.

"We were road warriors the past three or four years, and I'm not sure that this team is a road warrior team, we're so new," Pitino said. "That's why I gave the goal I gave, to go undefeated at home and take what you can get on the road and hope for the best."

The Cardinals lead the nation in scoring margin at plus-26.3.

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