Louisville makes its living on defense. It did last season in their run to the Final Four. They’ve kept it up this season as one of the favorites to get back there.
While defense has been the calling card (no pun intended) for Rick Pitino’s team all through the season, the turnover-heavy games — games where they get early buckets from turnovers to keep them in it — haven’t been at a premium as of late. Not that it’s a bad thing. They’ve normally made a living tiring teams out with their press, another signature of Pitino, then getting them when they already have control of the game.
Against Cincinnati, the no. 8 Cardinals (25-5, 13-4 Big East Conference) got their turnover-heavy game going again, forcing the Bearcats into 21 in their 67-51 win at home.
Every starter had at least two turnovers for Cincinnati (20-10, 8-9), including eight for forward Titus Rubles. At one point in the first half, struggling against the Louisville pressure, the Bearcats used two timeouts on one inbound play. They also finished 6-for-21 from three-point range, settling for outside shots late in the shot clock, beginning midway through the second half.
Steadily, Louisville got into a rhythm offensively, finishing the game hitting 48.3-percent of their shots (28-of-58). Russ Smith led the Cardinals with 18 points. Luke Hancock continued his rise as a key reserve for Louisville as well, finishing with eight points on 3-0f-4 shooting, hitting two threes in 22 minutes.
Cashmere Wright led Cincinnati with 15 points.
It was a missed opportunity for Cincinnati, who at 20-10, might want to tack on another good win or two to seal a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The win was really the Louisville team most people are used to seeing in the past few years. Their defensive creates their offense, whether it be from forced turnovers or tiring out their opponent to the point of pulling away late.
Pitino got his 300th win as Louisville head coach in the win. It’s also the Cardinals sixth win in a row since the five overtime loss at Notre Dame.
Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten