No. 6 Louisville hopes to stay hot against Clemson

NCAA Basketball
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Louisville will honor members of the school’s 1975 Final Four team at halftime of Saturday’s home game against Clemson at the Cardinals’ KFC Yum! Center.

Now if Louisville coach Chris Mack could get his No. 6-ranked team to play with the consistency displayed by that 1975 team, he might be on to something.

“It’s funny how success can change your mindset sometimes,” Mack said. “At some point I’ve got to get some older guys resembling being older.”

Complaints about inconsistent play from veterans may fall on deaf ears for a team that has won five games in a row, is 16-3 overall and sits alone atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings at 7-1, but Mack knows that the Cardinals have been playing with fire of late.

Since sandwiching losses to Kentucky and Florida State around the New Year, Louisville has mounted a five-game winning streak, albeit winning the last four by an average margin of 4.5 points.

The Cardinals’ latest close call came Wednesday night when they had to rally from an 11-point deficit to slip past Georgia Tech 68-64 at the Yum! Center, where they’re 11-1 this season. The Yellow Jackets, who led by six at the half, were within a single point with 1:20 remaining.

“I’d like to think that our kids really care about winning and we have a lot of pride,” Mack said. “But it shouldn’t take a deficit to figure that out.”

The Cardinals will face another scratch-and-claw team Saturday in Clemson (10-8, 4-4). The Tigers have played several close games and have been on a roll of late, winning four of their last five contests, including a win against North Carolina — the first victory in program history in Chapel Hill, N.C. — and a home upset against then-No. 3 Duke.

Clemson is coming off a 71-68 win against Wake Forest Tuesday night, a game in which leading scorer Aamir Simms was conspicuously absent but saw sophomore forward Hunter Tyson come through with a career-high 21 points.

“We don’t have a lot of prolific scoring,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “So it’s hard for our team sometimes; we’ve got to kind of use everybody.

“That’s our team right now. It would be nice to have three guys with 15 (points) or more and we’ve had that a couple of times — that’s how we beat Duke — and that’s probably what we’re going to need if we’re going to beat teams like Louisville and Florida State, but that’s not easy for our team.”

With the exception of Louisville’s 32-point victory against Clemson in 2017, nothing has come easy for either team in this series.

Last season, Clemson rallied from seven points down in the final 17 seconds before coming up short, 56-55. In 2018, Louisville escaped Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum with a five-point win, and Clemson prevailed 66-62 in 2016.

Whatever unfolds Saturday, neither team may be fond of seeing the result hinge on making free throws. Clemson is shooting just 39 percent from the free-throw line over its last two games while Louisville converted only 14 of 23 (61 percent) against Georgia Tech.

“We’ve had times where our funk is to start the game or at the end of either half,” Mack said. “If I knew and could wave a magic wand, I would do this. We’ll figure this thing out, but we’re not this juggernaut, just so everybody’s clear on that. We’re just trying to get there.”

–Field Level Media

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