Louisville-Coll. of Charleston Preview
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- Charleston has already surprised one Top 25 team this season, and coach Rick Pitino and Louisville aren't taking the Cougars lightly.
The Cardinals' latest performance is another reason why.
Pitino wants to see improvement defensively as the fifth-ranked Cardinals play their first true road game Tuesday night against upset-minded Charleston.
Charleston (5-2) has won four in a row behind strong defensive play, allowing 39.2 percent shooting from the field - including 25.6 percent from beyond the arc. That stretch includes a 63-59 win at then-No. 24 Baylor on Nov. 24, and that performance isn't lost on Pitino.
He also may be wary of the matchup after Louisville (6-1) narrowly avoided an upset of its own Saturday in beating Illinois State 69-66, as the Redbirds missed two potential game-tying 3s in the final seconds.
Plus, Charleston put a scare into the Cardinals last Dec. 20, losing 69-62 at Louisville after leading by four at halftime.
"Charleston is obviously, like (Illinois State), one of the teams in the country that could surprise a lot of people. They already surprised Baylor at Baylor. They won't surprise us," Pitino said. "They could win, but they won't surprise us because with two minutes to go in the game last year at (home), it was anybody's game.
"We're going into a hornets' nest. We realize that, and we've got to be ready to play."
Pitino's team has struggled defensively while adjusting without center Gorgui Dieng, who will be missing a third game with a broken left wrist.
The Cardinals have allowed opponents to shoot 47.1 percent from the field over the last three games, giving up a season-high 52.1 to Illinois State - which converted 20 of 29 attempts from inside the arc.
"Our defense is not as good in the back, obviously with Gorgui being out and all that pressure," Pitino said. "We've got to improve."
Another strong performance from Stephan Van Treese would help. The junior forward has totaled 14 points and 16 rebounds over the past two games after totaling four and 13, respectively, in the first five.
He had two steals and two blocks Saturday, playing a season-high 34 minutes off the bench to fill in for Dieng. That could be reason enough for Van Treese to get his first start of the season over Zach Price, who has totaled only four points and three rebounds in two games since Dieng's injury.
Still, Louisville may again rely heavily on guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, who combined for 44 points against the Redbirds.
Smith leads the Cardinals with 19.9 points per game, while Siva has averaged 17.3 over the past three contests.
Siva wasn't a factor against in last December's win, missing all five field goals and finishing with one point. Smith had 11 off the bench.
"Offensively, they are very aggressive and will attack you in transition," Cougars coach Doug Wojcik said. "It's coming at a great time for us with the way we are playing and our confidence level."
The Cougars are looking for another upset as they open a four-game homestand after overcoming a season high-tying 19 turnovers to win 56-54 at Elon on Saturday.
"We will continue to work hard and build on what we have going right now," junior forward Willis Hall said.
Hall, coming off a 19-point, 12-rebound effort versus Elon, will try to capitalize on Louisville's interior defensive issues and has averaged 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds over the past three games.
Andrew Lawrence, who had six points against the Cardinals last season, is averaging 13.0 points since getting a season-high 22 in a 71-67 win over Boston College on Nov. 18.
Updated December 4, 2012