No. 16 Louisville wary of struggling South Florida

No. 16 Louisville wary of struggling South Florida

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) The No. 16 Louisville Cardinals know that South Florida's mission on Saturday is to turn its season around with a big win.

The Cardinals know firsthand how a key victory can turn things around; they just don't want the Bulls doing it at their expense.

A senior-laden South Florida squad that was expected to challenge for the Big East championship has lost four straight since a 2-0 start - leaving the Bulls at a crossroads coming out of a bye week.

Meanwhile, Louisville (6-0, 1-0) returns home from a 35-day absence with its best start since 2006 and hungry to follow up last week's conference win at Pittsburgh.

Keeping the Cardinals focused on continuing their roll is their memory of being in the Bulls' position a year ago.

``They're fighting for their lives right now,'' Louisville left tackle Alex Kupper said.

The Cardinals remember what that feels like.

They started 2-4 last year before beating Rutgers 16-14 to end a three-game losing streak. The Cardinals went on to win five of their final six games and claim a share of the Big East title.

Louisville has won 11 of its last 12 regular season games. Its remaining schedule is against the Big East, starting next Friday with unbeaten and No. 21 Cincinnati.

But Cardinals coach Charlie Strong is stressing a one-game season approach to his players.

``Well, right now, you're sitting at 6-0 so you like the position you're in,'' he said. ``But you still have six more games to go play. We just can't get full of ourselves. We still have games in front of us.

``We're not even thinking about Cincinnati. Our only focus right now - the only team we need to worry about right now - is South Florida. If our players take on that attitude then we'll be fine but we can't look down the road,'' he said.

For South Florida coach Skip Holtz, Saturday's game represents ``a fresh start.''

``It's kind of a restart button,'' he said about the second half of the Bulls' season. ``We can't change the first six games, but we can learn from it, evaluate it (and) move on as a football team.''

While many of USF's matchups have been close, its Big East results have been disastrous with losses in 10 of its last 11.

The Bulls' last visit to Louisville could provide inspiration for how to put together a winning effort.

``We went up there two years ago and found a way to win in OT (24-21),'' Holtz said of his team's 2010 victory here. ``We're looking for that kind of jump start.''

It's the Bulls' most recent Big East win since beating Syracuse last November.

``I remember us fighting to the end,'' quarterback B.J. Daniels said.

Having a healthy Daniels would go a long way toward improving the Bulls' prospects. The extra rest from the bye week was especially important for the dual-threat senior, who has been slowed by a sprained ankle.

He rushed for just six yards in last week's loss to Temple and also missed last year's 34-24 loss to Louisville because of injury.

Turnovers, which doomed South Florida against Louisville last season, have been a key factor in its losing streak.

The Bulls' minus-10 turnover margin ranks in the bottom 10 nationally, and they're the only Football Bowl Subdivision school without an interception this season.

In Louisville sophomore Teddy Bridgewater, USF is facing a quarterback who has been intercepted just three times this season and ranks fifth nationally with a 72 percent completion rate.

``I guess we've been playing some pretty good quarterbacks, some pretty efficient quarterbacks and Bridgewater is another one,'' USF linebacker Sam Barrington said. ``We've got to put ourselves in great position to take the ball away instead of having the ball given to us.''

Kupper is one of 10 Louisville seniors who watched last year's 25-senior class right the Cardinals' ship midway through the season.

He knows South Florida's veterans - which include 25 seniors as well - want to use Saturday as a springboard for a similar feat.

``They have a lot of talent and they know that all it takes is one game to turn the season around,'' Kupper said.


AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”


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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.