LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville coach Rick Pitino insists his team is just trying to survive November until a few key contributors can get healthy. In the meantime, Kyle Kuric appears to be ready to carry the Cardinals.
Kuric scored 16 points and Gorgui Dieng grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds to lead to No. 7 Louisville to a 59-54 victory over Ohio on Friday night in the Global Sports Invitational.
"We're in a survival mode right now is all we're trying to do," said Pitino, who won his 250th game as Louisville's coach after reaching 600 wins overall earlier this season. "We are so banged up, we lack practice so much because our practices right now are so light and so easy, I'm just afraid to get somebody hurt. We're just trying to survive right now and hold off the enemy until the cavalry comes."
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This one was in doubt until the final minute. Ohio held a six-point lead with under 4 minutes to play before the Cardinals rallied.
"We (had) to come back, we're at home, it's early in the season. We're not going to lose," Kuric said. "So, we all came together, got stops and we got scores for the win."
Kuric hit a 3 in the corner, made a key steal and helped find Chris Smith for a fast-break layup that gave Louisville a 53-51 lead with 1:49 left.
After a dunk by Chane Behanan, Ohio's D.J. Cooper hit a 3-pointer to cut it to 55-54, but T.J. Hall and Cooper missed 3s in the closing seconds that would've tied the game.
"We came in here and nobody gave us a chance," Cooper said. "We were able to do our thing. We got the lead but we weren't able to hold on. We just stuck with our system, trusted one another. There weren't many open shots, but we were able to knock down a few. Louisville, they were the best defensive team we have played."
Louisville (5-0), which has won 13 straight at the KFC Yum! Center, got a lift from the surprise return of point guard Peyton Siva, who missed the previous two games with a severely sprained left ankle.
"Today, I didn't think I was going to play," Siva said. "I even told my mom I didn't think I'm going to suit up today. About 10 minutes before the game, coach Pitino put my name in the starting lineup, and I was like, `Oh man, I need to get ready to go.' I told him I was ready to go. I would play if this ankle was broken."
For a while, the bigger surprise was the Bobcats, who were poised to knock off a top-10 team on the road for the first time in program history.
"We didn't come here for a moral victory," Bobcats coach John Groce said. "Our guys believed that they could win the game, and then to get into position to win the game and then to not finish was disappointing."
Ohio (3-1) made two comebacks in the second half, including erasing a nine-point deficit to tie it at 41 with 5:12 left after Walter Offutt scored twice down low before Hall hit a 3-pointer that had Pitino calling timeout.
The Bobcats weren't done.
Kuric missed a jumper for Louisville and Cooper hit a 3 to give Ohio its first lead in more than 21 minutes, 46-43. After another Louisville miss, Cooper followed with a three-point play that left teammate Stevie Taylor pointing to the sky in delight.
The Cardinals promptly battled back, putting together a 9-0 run to take a 55-51 lead. Smith hit two free throws and had the tiebreaking fast-break layup during the spurt.
Cooper hit a 27-footer that cut Louisville's lead to one, but Siva hit two free throws and neither Hall nor Cooper could hit 3s to tie it in the final seconds. Behanan hit two free throws for the final margin and finished with 11 points.
Cooper scored 16 and Reggie Keely had 11 for the Bobcats, who had one of the better performances against Louisville's defense, which continues to throttle opponents by allowing an average of 46 points over the first five games.
The shifting zones and pressure have taken the spotlight off the Cardinals' injury situation. Louisville is without Mike Marra (left knee), Rakeem Buckles (right knee) and Wayne Blackshear (right shoulder).
Dieng is a work in progress, but showed promise against Ohio.
Ten of his 16 rebounds were on offense and he went 5 of 10 from the field. On one possession, the 6-foot-11 sophomore was stripped of the ball as Pitino shouted "Don't bring it down! Don't bring it down!"
The next time, Dieng kept the ball high and went up strong for two, heeding his coach's advice on the way to a career night.
"Gorgui had a very subpar game, but if you look at his stats, you'd think he'd had a very good game," Pitino said. "He's just got to get stronger physically because he brings the ball down too much. He'll get better at it, though."