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No. 5 Louisville uses defense to defeat Charleston

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No. 5 Louisville uses defense to defeat Charleston

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) Louisville coach Rick Pitino couldn't have asked for better trip South. He spent time with friends, got to visit his daughter and watched his fifth-ranked Cardinals play the defense he's been seeking all season.

Wayne Blackshear scored 18 points and Louisville turned up the defensive pressure throughout to blow past the College of Charleston, 80-38, on Tuesday night. The Cardinals (7-1) had a season-high 18 steals and forced the Cougars (5-3) into 27 turnovers, 11 more than they'd averaged coming in.

``It's the best we've looked this year'' on defense, Pitino said. ``We worked on it all week.''

It sure paid off at the sold-out TD Arena. The Cougars had hoped to rekindle the success of 2010 when they defeated ninth-ranked North Carolina here in overtime, 82-79. But Louisville never gave them a chance at the upset, pulling away with a 22-7 run midway through the opening period and eventually stretching the lead to 42 points.

Blackshear said the players watched film of some of Louisville's past, best defensive teams and brought that mentality into the game. Still, Pitino wasn't sure his players had absorbed the lessons and asked them before the game if they wanted to play zone defense or man-to-man against Charleston.

``I think we just all wanted to play man to show him we could get out there and play it well,'' Blackshear said.

Things turned Louisville's way for good in the opening half as Blackshear hit a 3-pointer to begin the decisive run. Russ Smith made seven of eight free throws and Peyton Siva had six points in the surge as the Cardinials led 36-16 at the half.

The Cougars scored the first five points after the break to cut the lead to 15 before Louisville got going again with five straight baskets.

Blackshear hit the second of three 3-pointers to increase the margin to 51-26 with 15:38 to go. Blackshear's last long-range basket some 11 minutes later made it 73-36.

``They are a great team if they get into a half-court set and that was our main key not to let them,'' Siva said. ``Our goal was to pressure their guards and it worked tonight.''

Smith finished with 13 points and Siva 12. The two combined for nine steals and held Charleston's backcourt of Andrew Lawrence and Anthony Stitt to 3-of-13 shooting, nine turnovers and 10 points, 14 fewer than their average coming in.

Adjehi Baru had 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Cougars.

Chane Behanan had 10 points, Louisville's fourth player in double figures.

Louisville had looked shaky its past two games without junior center Gorgui Dieng, who fractured his wrist in a win over Missouri on Nov. 23. Since then, the Cards lost to Duke (76-71) and hung on in a win over Illinois State (69-66) last Saturday.

This time, Louisville pushed the pace early and the Cougars couldn't stand up to its stifling defense. The Cardinals were up 12-3 less than seven minutes in, holding Charleston to 1-of-6 shooting and forcing five turnovers.

Blackshear's 3-pointer began the 22-7 run for Louisville over the final 8 minutes of the half. Smith made seven of eight foul shots in the run while Siva had 6 points.

Louisville had nine steals in the half as its pressing defense rarely let up.

Charleston finished the period with 16 turnovers, the amount it had averaged its first seven games.

The game was the 20th sellout in the TD Arena's five seasons and the Cougars had hoped to rekindle the success it had in 2010 when it rallied past then-No. 9 North Carolina here for an 82-79 overtime victory.

But that game's hero, ex-Charleston guard Andrew Goudelock, is in the NBA now and the Cougars had no one who could keep pace with Siva and Smith.

``We tried to simulate their pressure yesterday in practice. Their length and strength is pretty impressive,'' Cougars coach Doug Wojcik said. ``It was a tough night for us. We never put them on their heels.''

These played last year in Louisville and when then-Cougars coach Bobby Cremins stepped down last year, he urged Cardinals coach Rick Pitino to honor the trip South.

Why wouldn't he? Pitino said if he were going back to college, he'd put Charleston in his top three. It must run in the family since Pitino's daughter, Jacqueline, is a junior majoring in education at Charleston. He also spent time with Cremins and another ex-Cougars coach who's a friend in John Kresse, the man who the floor here in named for.

``I got to spent a little time with John Kresse, a little time with Bobby Cremins, I got to see me daughter, and we played great,'' he said. ``It couldn't have gone any better.''

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NHL Power Rankings: A rough week

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: A rough week

The Caps are coming off of one of, if not the worst week of their season. Washington has now lost three of four games and all three of those losses came in devastating fashion.

On Feb. 11, the Caps hosted a scuffling Detroit Red Wings team and saw the Wings build a 4-1 lead in the second period, a period in which the Caps were outshot 17-2. Washington battled back to tie the game, but ultimately lost in overtime. Tuesday in Winnipeg the Caps held a 3-1 lead in the third period, but allowed the Jets to mount a comeback and tie the game with just 15 seconds remaining in regulation before losing in overtime. Then, of course, there was Saturday's 7-1 blowout at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that had lost eight straight coming into that game.

SEE THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

To make matters worse, the Pittsburgh Penguins keep on winning and now hold a one-point lead over Washington. So yeah, things were not great.

The bad news is that, with the recent surges of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and even New Jersey, the Caps have to figure things out fast or they could continue to fall in the standings fairly quickly.

The good news is that they still remain in a relatively good position should they rebound. The Penguins do hold a one-point lead in the standings, but the Caps remain very much in the driver's seat of the division with three games in hand.

Four games separate Washington from the Feb. 26 trade deadline. The Caps will play in Buffalo, host Tampa Bay, play in Florida and host Buffalo. Winning three of those four games, especially if they can beat the dominant Lightning, will go a long way towards putting last week in the rearview mirror. Another tough week, however, could force the hand of general manager Brian MacLellan to make an unanticipated move at the trade deadline in order to keep a playoff season from falling apart.

After a week like that, it's no surprise to see Washington fall in this week's NHL Power Rankings. You can see the full rankings here.

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Game 59: Capitals at Sabres Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 59: Capitals at Sabres Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Buffalo Sabres

Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

When: 3:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Sabres will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Sabres game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

The Capitals (33-18-7) take on the Sabres (17-31-11) Monday, February 19 at 3:00 p.m. ET in Buffalo.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME ON?

The Capitals-Sabres game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 2:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 2:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 6:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 7:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

2:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
2:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
3:00 p.m. — Capitals at Sabres
5:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
6:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
7:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Sabres game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey

Philipp Grubauer starts with Braden Holtby as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Taylor Chorney

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

The Capitals-Sabres game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

CAPITALS-SABRES OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.