Cards eye another 'road kill' at Miami before homecoming

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- With silent cardboard cutouts filling in for rowdy fans at venues due to the pandemic, playing on the road in the Atlantic Coast Conference isn't as taxing as usual. However, it still has its challenges -- travel, a different routine, an unfamiliar environment.


So the No. 16 Cardinals (9-1, 4-0 ACC) can be proud of their unblemished road record as they aim for their fourth straight win away from home against Miami at 8:05 p.m. Saturday (ACCN) in the Watsco Center in Coral Gables, Fla.


"It's another opportunity to get a road kill, so we'll be prepared," forward Quinn Slazinski said.


They certainly have been so far, defeating Pittsburgh (64-54), Boston College (76-64) and Wake Forest (77-65).


Even more impressive is that UofL has done it with young players, a demographic that doesn't normally lend itself to strong performances on the road. The Cards have two freshmen and two sophomores in their starting lineup, along with grad transfer Carlik Jones, while two sophomores and a rookie make up the remainder of the remainder of their rotation.


"Crowd or no crowd, it's always difficult to win on the road in this conference," sophomore forward  Samuell Williamson said after Wednesday's 77-65 win at Wake Forest. "To get three road kills in three conference games is huge for us. We don't know how many games we're going to play -- 20, 18 or 15, so we know every game is equally important. "


Williamson added that the Cards approach road tests "with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder," knowing it's going to be more difficult than it would be playing the same opponent in the KFC Yum! Center, where UofL has won nine consecutive ACC games, a streak they'll put on the line Monday against Florida State (6-2, 2-1) in the first of three straight home games.


UofL coach Chris Mack thinks his players' demeanor during road games plays a significant role in their success.


"One thing our team doesn't lack is spirit and energy on the sideline, which I think is needed when you go into empty buildings where it feels more like a scrimmage at times," Mack said. "I like our approach, but I don't think we're nearly good enough to think we can consistently close out games on the road just yet."


Much as that achievement is to be admired, a disclaimer is in order here. The Cards have benefited greatly from a user-friendly road schedule. Three of their four hosts are at the bottom of the ACC with a combined 2-14 record, and one of those wins is against one of the other three -- BC over Miami.


For the sake of comparison, after Saturday UofL's remaining six road games will be against teams that currently have an 18-7 (.720) ACC record.


And one further note of caution: the Cards won their first five road games last season, but then lost their last four and two of those defeats came against underdogs -- Georgia Tech and Clemson -- costing them the ACC title. Instead, they finished in a three-way tie for second, one game behind the champion Seminoles.


Miami has the look of another Louisville victim. The Hurricanes were expected to be one of the league's better teams -- picked seventh, two spots below the Cards -- but have been ravaged by injuries to key players. So much so that of 357 teams in Division I, Miami ranks No. 342 in the KenPom luck ratings.


The Canes' four returning senior starters -- Chris Lykes, Kameron McGusty, Rodney Miller Jr. and Sam Waardenburg -- along with top-ranked recruit Earl Timberlake -- have combined to be available start to finish in just 12 of a possible 47 games.


Still, Miami has managed to be very competitive in most of its games, with three of its last four losses coming by a total of five points (North Carolina, 67-65; Clemson 66-65; and Virginia Tech 80-78).


But in their last outing, the Canes were demolished 84-62 by BC (3-9, 1-5), which hit 18-of-35 three-pointers (to Miami's 2-16).


"They just torched our backcourt like we weren't there," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. "As a whole we played an awful game."


Miami's leading scorer is 6-3 sophomore guard Isaiah Wong (16.5 ppg), who scored 24 points in a 64-59 win at NC State but was held to six by the Eagles. The Canes' only other double-figure scorer is the 6-6 Timberlake (10.2), who is back in the starting lineup after missing five games.


Louisville has won three straight and nine of the last 11 against Miami.

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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