After nearly a week, the 10th ranked University of Louisville basketball Cardinals (22-5, 10-4 Big East) came back home to the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday for a matchup against the Seton Hall Pirates (13-15, 2-13). Seton Hall comes in after losing 8 straight and being destined to play in the first round of the Big East Tournament while the Cards are looking at a double-bye in that same tourney. Louisville prevailed 79-61.
The game was a homecoming of sorts for Louisville native Aaron Cosby. The sophomore worried the Cardinals because of his outside shooting ability. In only a year and a half with the Pirates, he had already made 114 three pointers to rank 17th on Seton Hall’s all time list.
On the other side, junior Fuquan Edwin has knocked down 117 to rank 15th. The Cards had to contain that twin threat to continue coach Rick Pitino’s goal of winning out til the end of the season.
The other storyline to watch involved the coach Kevin Willard connection. Willard, the Seton Hall head man, served as assistant coach and associate head coach at Louisville under Pitino. Willard also says his other big coaching influence is his father Ralph. Ralph Willard coached at Western Kentucky and has his share of local fans.
The Pirates hung with Louisville early on as the Cards worked their rotation, trying different combinations to keep the Pirates off balance. But because it’s UofL and the way the defense plays, things got tougher for the visitors. After hitting early threes, Seton Hall went cold, only putting in 4 of 11 in the first half and 7 of 18 for the game.
Meanwhile the Cardinals were red hot thanks to Luke Hancock, Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, each hitting all their three attempts in the first half.
The largest lead the Pirates could come up with was 2 and that was after 17 seconds of play. After 3:36 on the clock, the Cards took the lead for good and the halftime score was 40-26.
Gorgui Dieng played a career game in both halves. His 10 first half points led his team and he put a couple of blocks with that as well. The midrange jump shot that abandoned him earlier in the year came back in a ferocious way.
Seton Hall couldn’t figure out what to do because Dieng didn’t spend all day in the paint. When your big man can come to the top of the key and put in baskets, the other team knows they’re in trouble. Dieng went for a season high 23 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks and two steals
Smith went Russdiculous, of course. He poured in 19 points, including a perfect 10 for 10 from the free throw line. His five assists tied Siva’s and his two steals seem a little low considering how ball hungry Smith can be.
Forward Luke Hancock had a perfect shooting day; the kind Cardinal fans have been waiting for. 4 for 4 from the field, 3 for 3 from the arc, 2 for 2 from the stripe all add up to a 13 point outing for the George Mason transfer. And for good measure, he dished three assists.
Seton Hall had an early rebounding edge, but the Cards erased that in the second half as both teams finished with 31 apiece. Coach Pitino wants more, way more, particularly from Wayne Blackshear who had an off game. The only number of note on his stat sheet were the 4 personal fouls he committed.
Next for Louisville is a Wednesday trip to Chicago to take on DePaul. It’s a late game, tipping off at 9:05. They don’t return to the KFC Yum! Center until Monday, March 4 for a huge rivalry matchup against Cincinnati.
Photos: Louisville.com/Tim Girton