Louisville back into the 'elite' category?

Luke Hancock

The University of Louisville men's basketball team has seemingly turned the corner, whipping Rutgers 104-52 on Sunday night to move to 21-4 on the season. Cardinal Authority checks in with Rick Pitino to see where he believes this team is headed down the stretch.

Less than a week after saying his team wasn't one of the best teams in the country, University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino has seen something that has changed his mind.

A pair of blowouts.

Pitino isn't ready to call the Cardinals national title contenders but said his team is "in the mix," after watching them demolish Rutgers 104-52 on Sunday night before 21,821 in the KFC Yum! Center.

The Cardinals hit 16 of 30 three-point field goals, outrebounded the Scarlet Knights 39-24, had 23 assists on 34 made field goals and scored 23 points off 18 Rutgers turnovers.

"We played really well," Pitino said. "Anytime you shoot the basketball that well, everything is going to pick up. Our guys just nailed their focus. They really pay no attention to who we are playing and they just play hard."

On Tuesday, Pitino answered "objectively no," to the question is his team was among the title contenders in the country.

But the Rutgers demolition and a blowout at Temple after having the game pushed back a day due to bad weather ave Pitino thinking maybe his team could win back-to-back titles. He mentioned Michigan State, Florida, Arizona, Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky, Arizona, Cincinnati, Villanova and Creighton.

"And I'd put ourselves in the mix," he said. "Cincinnati and Syracuse have played a lot of really close games, which means they shoot free throws well and the balls in the right hands of the right people at the end of games. I'm very impressed with all of those teams and I think we're in the mix because we're getting better.

"Now, three weeks ago I was really worried about the type of defense we were playing. But our defense has improved dramatically. Dramatically, and that's a good thing."

Everything was clicking on this night as U of L raced to a 43-24 halftime lead.

Luke Hancock led the way with a career-high 25 points on 6 of 8 three-point field goals, while Terry Rozier had a career-high 16 with 4 of 7 three-pointers, along with four assists, three steals and three rebounds.

Wayne Blackshear added 10, while Chris Jones had nine points and four assists and Russ Smith scored just seven but had five assists, four rebounds and two steals.

"We can still get better," Smith said. "We're a good team but we can still clean up some of our faults on defense. We can still get better."

The Cardinals hit 34 of 61 from the field and held Rutgers to just 17 of 48 and Hancock said when U of L plays defense it "makes everything else just a lot easier."

"We're starting to play defense like coach wants us to play defense," Hancock said. "We're getting there but there's still room to improve."

U of L will host South Florida on Tuesday night before traveling to Cincinnati for a noon tip on Saturday.

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