LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Style points mattered less to Louisville than achieving the bottom line of bouncing back from a tough loss.
Such was the saving grace of a victory featuring fits and starts.
Russ Smith scored 27 points and Luke Hancock added 16 to help No. 12 Louisville pull away from Central Florida 87-70 on Saturday night.
Despite several rough spots that allowed the Knights to stay close, the Cardinals (18-4, 7-2 American Athletic Conference) stayed safely ahead by making 52 percent (32 of 62) from the field. Smith's 9-of-14 shooting included a pair of 3-pointers and led the way for Louisville.
"I think once you get on a roll you really need to step on teams and make your run and it's something we're really going to have to work on," said Hancock, who went 5 of 9 from the floor before fouling out late in the game. "We've got some younger guys that have got to learn some lessons about staying in it and staying productive and keeping our run going. ...
"It's going to be a little up and down, but we're starting to come together."
Montrezl Harrell had 14 points and seven rebounds and Wayne Blackshear added 10 points in his first start in five games as Louisville bounced back from Thursday night's loss to No. 13 Cincinnati.
Tristan Spurlock scored 20 points for UCF (9-10, 1-7), but he and leading scorer Isaiah Sykes (eight points on 2-of-12 shooting) spent nearly seven minutes of the second half on the bench with four fouls each. Both returned with 6½ minutes remaining but Spurlock didn't take another shot and made just two free throws with 56 seconds left.
"It's something that happened. I had to deal with it," Spurlock said of the foul trouble. "It was tough for us. I felt like it really hurt us as a team. It took us out of it a little bit. You've just got to deal with it. It's basketball."
Louisville took advantage of their absences to outscore the Knights 48-28 in the paint en route to completing a season sweep and avoiding a losing streak for the fourth time this season. The Cardinals also scored 23 points off 16 turnovers and held the Knights to 21-of-55 shooting (38 percent).
Calvin Newell added 12 points for UCF.
Against Cincinnati, the Cardinals rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit and took a three-point lead before making just two free throws in the final 5 minutes to lose 69-66. Against UCF, the Cardinals didn't allow uneven stretches to cost them the game.
Nor was Louisville fazed by being outrebounded for the ninth time (38-35) in 11 games, twice by UCF. The Cardinals simply got baskets when they needed them, handing the Knights their sixth straight loss.
"We still have a lot of areas for improvement, which is something I like," Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said. "We'll keep working at those."
UCF faced its third consecutive ranked AAC foe, and Louisville certainly didn't make it easy.
In fact, a smaller Louisville starting lineup seemed primed to run UCF off the floor at the start in building a 20-6 lead with an improved transition game. Smith opened with a pair of 3-pointers en route to outscoring the Knights 14-13 with 9½ minutes left in the half.
UCF got within 29-25 on Spurlock's flying dunk with 1:42 left in the half. Louisville's nearly 5-minute scoreless stretch earlier opened the door for the Knights, but the Cardinals managed to take a 37-27 halftime lead on long-range baskets from Tim Henderson and Blackshear to close the half.
Louisville offset 41 percent shooting in the half with a 21-17 rebounding edge that provided a little room for second-chance points.
Blackshear's 3-pointer and Terry Rozier's steal and layup coming out of the break briefly put Louisville up by 15 before UCF got within single digits, but the Knights' outlook dimmed when Spurlock drew personal and technical fouls with 13:04 remaining after a confrontation with Harrell. That gave him four, sending him and Sykes to the bench when he picked up his fourth soon after.
"It happens," Spurlock said of the situation. "Sometimes they catch the second guy."