January 26, 2016

Louisville hasn't been overly impressive on the offensive end in conference play, but it's made that passable by experiencing little dropoff defensively between its nonconference results and its ACC opponents.

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, has shown an ability to hang with the conference's best on its own court. The 16th-ranked Cardinals head there Wednesday night seeking a fourth straight win, while the Hokies try to avoid their first three-game skid of the season.

Louisville (16-3, 5-1) won 75-71 at Georgia Tech on Saturday and ranks 10th in league play with 70.3 points per game on 44.0 percent shooting. That's down from 85.1 on 51.2 percent over an 11-2 nonconference span - a reasonable dip when competition is more often Duke and North Carolina than Grand Canyon and Kennesaw State.

But the Cardinals have continued to excel defensively, allowing 62.0 points on 37.3 percent in the league after being at 57.4 and 36.0 outside of it. In their first ACC season, their opposing field-goal percentage jumped from 35.0 against regular-season nonconference foes to 41.5 in the league.

It's been good enough to make them one of two teams without two losses in ACC play, despite the continued distraction of an NCAA investigation into a preseason accusation that a former staffer hired escorts for players and recruits in a Louisville dormitory.

"When we were hit with this, it not only broke our hearts, it broke our spirits," coach Rick Pitino said. "Then we get a group like this that totally raised our spirits."

Chinanu Onuaku has been a part of that with six straight double-doubles, including 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Yellow Jackets.

The big man had help down low with Anas Mahmoud scoring a career-high 15 points after never surpassing seven in his previous 45 games. The forward is 11 of 16 from the field in the last three games.

"Trey (Lewis) kept coming to me in the low post," said Mahmoud, who's averaged 17.8 minutes over the last four games after entering that span at 10.3. "He created some space for me every time he spun away from defenders."

The Cardinals won last season's meeting 78-63, but that came at home.

Virginia Tech (12-8, 4-3) has been involved in four straight games decided by five points or fewer against teams ranging from the top of the ACC to the bottom, including Sunday's 75-70 home loss to No. 2 North Carolina.

The Hokies also boast a 70-68 home win over then-No. 4 Virginia on Jan. 4, but that stands as their only win in their last 22 versus the Top 25.

A poor first half did them in against the Tar Heels despite North Carolina going 3 of 23 from 3-point range. Virginia Tech has held its last three opponents to 21.8 percent from long range, but that only goes so far.

"We shot 50 percent from the field in the second half, so we were doing OK offensively," coach Buzz Williams told the school's official website. "We just couldn't get enough stops and couldn't keep them off the glass.

"We did a better job in the second half of taking better shots, and if you take better shots, obviously nobody is surprised, so you make more, and they have to play against a set defense. Then if you don't turn the ball over and make a shot or take a good shot, then they have to play against a set defense as well. That helped us."

Top scorer Zach LeDay had 17 points versus North Carolina and in his last six games is averaging 20.0 on 52.9 percent shooting, including 12 of 18 from 3-point range.

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