The 10th ranked University of Louisville basketball Cardinals (23-5, 11-4 Big East) went on the road Wednesday for a battle with rival DePaul University (11-17, 2-13). The Cards felt good going into the game since the Blue Demons haven’t beaten UofL since 2004 when both teams were members of Conference USA. The Cards get the victory this time out, too, 79-58. That means DePaul is 0 for the Big East against Louisville.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t play Cardinals tough. Last time out, the Blue Demons led by 10 at halftime before eventually falling to the eventual conference champions. They looked to repeat a performance like that here.
DePaul owns the conference’s second worst record this year, but at home in the Allstate Arena in Chicago, they had a chance to exploit the traditionally slow starting Cards. When they’re away from the KFC Yum! Center, Louisville takes a long time to find their range.
DePaul presses on defense so that presented problems early on. It didn't help that this game was another same day travel trip for the Cardinals. The Blue Demons went up 8-0 early, however Louisville caught up quickly with an 14-2 run of their own as they played off the rust.
The Cardinal bench came into the game early as has been the format from the last few games. At one time early in the first half, only one starter was on the floor leading four subs. With an uptempo game, fresh legs will always be key and in a matchup of the Cardinal bench against any other team in the country, take the guys from the Ville.
Coach Rick Pitino continued to scream at his team about rebounding. As the Cards started to distance themselves in other aspects of the game, the Blue Demons hung around because they crashed the boards better. Louisville also didn't help their cause by shooting low percentages. Same story all season.
Then a rim rattling Chane Behanan dunk and a huge Kevin Ware shot rejection later the Cardinals go into halftime with a lead 34-25 with Behanan showing the way by scoring 10 points. Turnovers for both teams kept the score lower than expected and both teams kept at each other with aggression.
With no threes hit by either team in the first half, Wayne Blackshear nailed one early in the second to extend the Louisville lead to 12 points. And it continued to build. DePaul couldn't match the play of the Cardinal bench, let alone the starters. Good thing for the Cards, too, because the starters got themselves into some foul trouble.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Blackshear who played his high school basketball in Chicago and his mother Carol attended the game. In fact, his old high school team was supposed to be at the game but bad weather kept them from playing a playoff game one day earlier so they had to make that up Wednesday night.
The Blue Demons mounted a comeback to cut the lead to single digits when Louisville kicked it into cruise control a little too early. In hostile territory you can't do that especially due to the fact that through the entire post season, the Cards are going to be in hostile territory.
Then, a timeout later, Louisville went up by 18 points. They even snuck some razzle dazzle into the contest as Siva hit a 360 degree layup late in the game.
Russ Smith led all scorers with 17 points, including his 1000th as a Cardinal. His backcourt mate Siva finished with 16.
It doesn’t get any easier from here. The Cards travel to the Carrier Dome for a rematch with 12th ranked Syracuse on Saturday. They return home Monday to welcome rival Cincinnati to the KFC Yum! Center at 7pm.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton