MIAMI (AP) — After Chris Jones’ suspension led to Louisville’s first consecutive losses in two seasons, the Cardinals will look to quickly turn things around with their starting guard back in the lineup.
Jones returns Saturday to face a motivated Miami team hoping to boost its tournament resume with a second conference road win over a top-10 opponent.
Twelfth-ranked Louisville (20-6, 8-5 ACC) lost at home to North Carolina State on Feb. 14 before suspending Jones for the following contest with Syracuse. Without the senior – suspended for violating unspecified team rules – the Cardinals were outscored 41-27 in the second half of a 69-59 defeat.
Louisville had not dropped back-to-back contests since a three-game skid Jan. 19-26, 2013.
“Chris knows how disappointed I am that he missed that game,” coach Rick Pitino said. “I said, ‘You cost your team a victory.’ Not saying we would have definitely won if he was there, but he knows how I feel and he’s very disappointed as well.
“You can’t erase your mistake, but what you can do is play harder and better.”
Jones ranks third on the team with 13.6 points per game, and had averaged 16.6 in the seven prior to the suspension.
That stretch included one of his best efforts of the season in Louisville’s 63-55 win over Miami on Feb. 3. Jones had 16 points, eight rebounds, six steals and five assists while Terry Rozier contributed a game-high 22 points.
“We played very well offensively against Miami,” Pitino said Friday. “We have to make some corrections. They’re a very different team. They’ve been playing four guards, switching everything and it’s caused some damage to teams defensively. Those four guards get in the paint, they shoot great, they cause a lot of damage.”
Miami (17-9, 7-6) has won three of four since that defeat. The Hurricanes edged Boston College in double-overtime Monday before beating Virginia Tech 76-52 on Wednesday.
Coach Jim Larranaga considered Monday’s victory a season-saver.
“Every game is of equal value in terms of it being one win, but in terms of the impact it has on going forward, it was huge,” coach Larranaga said. “It allows us to move forward and compete for an at-large bid.”
Though Miami has dropped games to weaker competition such as Eastern Kentucky, the Hurricanes also have several quality wins – most notably at No. 4 Duke. A visit to Louisville, where Miami hasn’t played since 2006, presents an opportunity for another marquee victory.
Guards Davon Reed, Sheldon McClellan, James Palmer and Angel Rodriguez have started the last two games for Miami, and are expected to again Saturday. They combined for 49 of the team’s 79 points against Virginia Tech, led by McClellan’s 21.
“Teams that really spread us out and shoot the 3 well have a lot of success,” Larranaga said. “We’ve been going with a smaller lineup, and we’ll be sticking with that.”
Larranaga won’t have to worry about Louisville, which went 4 for 15 from 3-point range in the first meeting and shoots it at just over 30 percent from deep, spreading his team out. Reed hit 5 of 6 from beyond the arc and finished with 19 points in the first meeting, but the rest of the Hurricanes shot 11 of 45 (24.4 percent) overall and 1 for 13 from long distance.
Louisville leads the ACC in defensive 3-point percentage (29.1).
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