By PAUL DIGIACOMO
(AP) -- Louisville seems to be back on track after a rough stretch knocked it from the top of the rankings, and a visit to take on a struggling Rutgers team could help the Cardinals distance themselves even further from that poor play.
Following a pair of improved offensive performances, No. 11 Louisville looks to continue its dominance of the Scarlet Knights on Wednesday night.
The Cardinals opened 16-1 and jumped to No. 1 in the AP poll before suffering three consecutive losses Jan. 19-26. They averaged 61.0 points and shot 38.7 percent in those defeats after scoring 76.9 per game while making 45.7 percent of their field-goal attempts in the first 17 contests.
Louisville (18-4, 6-3 Big East) ended its skid with a 64-61 win over Pittsburgh on Jan. 28 by shooting 45.1 percent, just the second time in seven games it made over 42.0 percent. The Cardinals played even better Sunday as they shot 51.9 percent in beating then-No. 25 Marquette 70-51.
They are one of four teams in the Big East with three conference defeats. Syracuse and Marquette have each lost twice in league play.
"I'm really, really happy with our effort," coach Rick Pitino said Sunday. "... I'm really, really excited about the victory and, obviously now, it starts to really get together with everybody having two losses. We needed a good victory today and we got it."
Russ Smith scored 18 points and Peyton Siva ended a shooting slump with 14 points while adding seven assists. Siva went 6 for 9 from the floor after making 7 of 31 (22.6 percent) in his previous four games.
"Like I said, we are very good," Pitino said. "... There are a lot of things I love about them and I think as we enter February, we are going to get more and more serious about the little things."
The Cardinals lost 65-56 at Rutgers on Jan. 28, 2006, in their first season in the Big East, but they've since won all six matchups by an average of 19.5 points.
This time around, the Scarlet Knights (12-8, 3-6) enter on a season-worst four-game skid. Rutgers has lost twice to ranked teams during that slide and is 1-4 in such matchups this season.
The Scarlet Knights are averaging 56.0 points on 37.7 percent shooting over the last three games. They haven't played since losing 62-54 at then-No. 24 Cincinnati last Wednesday, getting outscored 40-24 in the second half and finishing with 21 turnovers.
"When they turned their intensity and defensive pressure up, we didn't have a response," coach Mike Rice said. "We had a lot of turnovers that led to their transition points and our lack of making field goals. Those things were critical to the game."
Rutgers can't afford to make many mistakes against the Cardinals, who are among the national leaders with 19.2 turnovers forced per game.
Eli Carter, who leads the Scarlet Knights with an average of 15.2 points, turned the ball over five times in these teams' only meeting last season. Carter scored 24 in the 78-66 loss at Louisville, while Chane Behanan paced the Cardinals with a career-best 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting.
Updated February 5, 2013