LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville senior guard Chris Smith
emphatically answered a question meant for teammate Chane Behanan.
After a resounding 80-59 victory over Connecticut on Monday night, the Cardinals are in sync on the court and off it.
"We just had more fun than they did," Smith declared.
They outworked the Huskies, too.
Gorgui Dieng returned from a sprained right ankle to score 15
points and Behanan added 12 rebounds to lead Louisville (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) to its fifth straight win.
Louisville (19-5, 7-4) is quickly ascending the Big East
standings after a rough start. While most of the 31 credential NBA
personnel were scouting the Huskies, it was the Cardinals who
outplayed them all evening.
"If you want to be a pro, you've got to stop a pro. The defense
speaks for itself," Behanan said. "Hopefully we can do that throughout the rest of the season and make a run in the tournament."
Dieng was questionable after Saturday's injury in a win over
Rutgers, but he clogged up the lane and kept Connecticut freshman
Andre Drummond in check.
Freshman Ryan Boatright led the Huskies (15-8, 5-6) with 18
points. Drummond went scoreless, missing all six shots, and Jeremy
Lamb finished with seven points, well short of his average of 17.6.
"It was just a great opportunity for us to beat those guys and
actually get everybody looking at us, also," said Smith, who had
16 points. "You could see it in their eyes, they weren't in tune to the game. I feel like we took the fire from them from the beginning of the second half. We took the fire and kept running with it."
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun missed his second game on an
indefinite medical leave of absence after he was diagnosed with
spinal stenosis. Assistant coach George Blaney ran the team.
"They embarrassed us," Blaney said. "That's not the way we
play. I have to give them credit as to how tough they played."
Everyone contributed as Louisville looked similar to the team
ranked fourth in the nation at 12-0 and nothing like the one that
dropped five out of seven to tumble out of the poll three weeks
"We're really playing for ourselves right now," Louisville point guard Peyton Siva said. "It's kind of good for us that we dropped down in the rankings like that because I think the rankings really gave a lot of people big heads."
Kyle Kuric scored 10 points for Louisville and Siva had nine
assists while Behanan again made a mark coming off a 23-point,
11-rebound performance against the Scarlet Knights.
Dieng appeared to have some early problems with his ankle, but
had a career-high six steals and was a key contributor in the
Cardinals' decisive 21-4 run that gave them a 65-36 lead with 6:18
"It was bothering me a little bit at the beginning of the game," Dieng said. "No matter what, I was going to play."
Siva's 3-pointer made it 49-32 with just over 9½ minutes to play as the Huskies called a timeout. It didn't help.
Drummond missed a layup and Dieng's long outlet pass went to
Siva, who feathered a touch pass to Jared Swopshire for a layup.
On the next possession, Swopshire intercepted Lamb's pass to
start a four-on-one. Dieng couldn't convert the dunk, but grabbed
his own rebound and finished it on the second try.
Lamb made a jumper to momentarily slow Louisville, but Swopshire hit a 3 and Siva was off and running again, cutting across the lane and finding Kuric, who finished with a one-handed slam that put the Cardinals ahead 58-34.
"Everybody rebounded, everybody got out on the break, everybody played defense," Siva said. "It's just fun. You get out there,
you run, you're just having fun. It really gives you a lot more
Connecticut called for another timeout as Siva ran to midcourt
and spread his arms after Kuric's dunk. Behanan grabbed his
teammate and carried him all the way to the bench as the Cardinals
pushed the lead to 30 late.
Blaney fell to 3-2 in the games he's coached this season. Alex
Oriakhi scored 11 points and Roscoe Smith added 10 for Connecticut.
Lamb is 10 of his last 37 from the field.
"I can't hit a shot," he said. "I'm in a bad slump right
Behanan set the tone in the second half, getting inside position
for an offensive rebound and putback on the first play. After
Boatright missed a 3, Behanan hit one that gave the Cardinals their
first 10-point lead, 34-24, just over a minute into the second half.
It was only Behanan's fifth 3-pointer in 29 attempts this
Connecticut, which led by as many as three points in the first
half, missed its first eight 3-point attempts until Lamb scored for
the first time in the game with 16:48 left, then he completed an
alley-oop pass to the 6-foot Boatright that cut it to 40-30.
The burst only temporarily slowed the surging Cardinals.
"You don't want to play teams when they are on an uptick,"
Blaney said. "And they are on an uptick."