With key contributors Luke Hancock and Chane Behanan back, Louisville is near full strength while in position to make history.
The third-ranked Cardinals look for a school-record 19th consecutive victory Friday night while trying to hand visiting Cornell a 10th straight defeat.Though Louisville (2-0) didn't need much production from two of its top players during Tuesday's 97-69 rout of Hofstra, having Hancock back after he missed the opener with an Achilles injury and Behanan from an indefinite suspension for violating university policy provided a boost for the reigning NCAA champions.Guard Kevin Ware, who suffered a gruesome leg injury during last season's NCAA tournament, is still a few games away from making his regular-season debut.Hancock, the Most Outstanding Player of last year's Final Four after totaling 42 points in two games, scored eight and had three rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench Tuesday. Behanan, the team's top returning rebounder (7.5 per game last season) and second-leading returning scorer (9.5 points), had four points with one board in 14 minutes while also in a reserve role.Russ Smith scored 30 points on 12-of-22 shooting and Chris Jones added 20 with seven assists as Louisville shot 51.5 percent, forced 22 turnovers and committed five while matching the school record of 18 straight wins set during its 1979-80 NCAA championship season.The Cardinals' average margin of victory is 16.8 points during the current winning stretch that dates to their 104-101 five-overtime loss at Notre Dame on Feb. 9."We just have this quality, we all call 'boom', and we've seen it now for 18 games," coach Rick Pitino said. "It is an amazing quality. And sometimes it's different players, it's multiple players."The Cardinals' second effort was much better than Saturday's 70-48 victory over the College of Charleston, when they shot 38.2 percent and led by two at halftime. Hofstra, which went 14 of 25 from 3-point range, got within five with 15:35 left in the game but Louisville responded with a 26-2 run to put things away."All the sudden, it's a five-point game and you look up and it's 30. It's an amazing quality," Pitino said. "I've been coaching a long time and haven't seen too many teams like these guys."But we've got to get better, our communication skills have to get better, we have to rebound the ball better, but five turnovers in a game."Smith has totaled 51 points on 19-of-39 shooting in two games after he averaged a team-leading 18.7 last season.Facing Louisville for the first time, Cornell (0-3) looks to end a nine-game slide that dates to a 69-66 win over Brown on Feb. 16.The Big Red opened the season with an 82-60 loss at then-No. 8 Syracuse, and have dropped seven straight by an average of 20.3 points to Top 25 teams since knocking off then-No. 12 Temple and No. 16 Wisconsin during the 2010 NCAA tournament.Sophomore guard Nolan Cressler averages a team-leading 18.7 points. He scored 19 as Cornell blew a 13-point halftime lead in Wednesday's 89-79 loss to Binghamton.