LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- As Louisville maintains its tough defensive reputation, the fourth-ranked Cardinals are building a nice offensive game as well.
Wednesday night's Big East Conference opener against Providence was a perfect example.Russ Smith came off the bench to score 23 points and Louisville shot 63 percent in the second half to run away from Providence 80-62.
The Cardinals finished at 53 percent from the field (30 of 57), the fourth time this season they have shot at least 50 percent and the fourth straight game they have converted at least 48 percent of their attempts.
Making this performance more satisfying for Louisville was doing it against a tough Big East foe such as Providence, which routed the Cardinals by 31 points last Jan. 10 in Rhode Island.
"We're continuing to win with offense," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "Once our defense catches up with our offense, we have a chance to be a special team."The Cardinals were pretty stout defending the Friars, scoring 27 points off 16 turnovers. Louisville had 10 steals, compared to just one for Providence.
The Cardinals' payoff was their second-best shooting percentage this season along with five players scoring in double figures. Center Gorgui Dieng posted his 14th career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, adding four blocks.
Forward Luke Hancock also had 11 points along with a career-high eight rebounds. Chane Behanan shook off the flu to score 10 points as did senior guard Peyton Siva, who contributed eight assists as the Cardinals (13-1, 1-0) won their eighth straight.Louisville's complete effort made a believer of Providence coach Ed Cooley.
"I think our team just played the best team in the country," Cooley said. "I've scouted every game that they have played this year and they have a lot of different answers, a lot of experience."They play at a great pace.
They use their depth. It seems like their players know their roles. They were fun to watch, even to scout."Louisville, coming off Saturday's 80-77 victory over archrival Kentucky, didn't let down against Providence.
Motivated by the memory of last season's road loss to the Friars, the Cardinals responded by handing Providence its worst defeat of the season.After hitting 15 of 33 for a 37-31 halftime lead, Louisville broke the game open by hitting 15 of 24 in the final 20 minutes.
The Cardinals had 22 assists.Kadeem Batts had 17 points to lead Providence (8-5, 0-1)), which shot 46 percent in falling to 0-7 all-time in Louisville.
Though avoiding a post-Kentucky lull was part of Louisville's agenda, its main objective was starting off its conference schedule on a high note.
And nearly a year after being routed by the Friars with a combination of Providence's fine play and Louisville's poor performance, Pitino did not want a repeat, especially on the Cardinals' home court."We put it behind us, especially after the Final Four run," Behanan said.
"But once this season started and we got close to Big East play, he (Pitino) started to bring it up and he kept saying that we didn't want to make the same mistakes, especially at home.
We just had to come out focused."It didn't happen as Louisville played well at both ends.The biggest question for both teams was whether they would be at full strength.Providence guard Bryce Cotton was a game-time decision because of a sore knee that sidelined him from Friday's loss to Brown.
But the Big East's leading scorer (22.0 points per game) started and had 11 points in the first half.Behanan was considered doubtful for Louisville with the flu but managed to start, though he seemed less energetic than usual.
The same could be said for the Cardinals' early play.Providence scored the first eight points against the out-of-sync Cardinals before Smith, replaced in the starting lineup by Kevin Ware, hit a 3-pointer.
But the Friars quickly increased their lead to 10 as Vincent Council answered from beyond the arc, creating unease from a crowd of 21,305 whose attention was split between the game and the football team's appearance in the Sugar Bowl that kicked off minutes after the final horn.Just as quickly, the Cardinals found their rhythm and tied the game with a 15-5 run as Smith added five straight points, Behanan scored off a turnover, Dieng and Hancock had tip-ins and Wayne Blackshear finished with a layup.Providence took two brief leads soon after but Louisville was in high gear on both ends, especially on defense.
The Cardinals turned up the pressure and ended the half with 19 points off 11 turnovers, helping them take a 37-31 lead.Louisville quickly made it a double-digit lead on two free throws by Siva and Smith's layup off a steal by Behanan.
The Cardinals followed with a 28-16 run including 13 straight that made it 69-49."Who would've thought at the beginning of the year that we'd be playing great offensively?" Siva asked. "Everybody's going to get into their own and play hard and we're going to learn a lot."