LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville senior guard Chris Smith emphatically answered a question meant for teammate Chane Behanan. After a resounding 80-59 victory against 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 No. 24 Louisville to its fifth consecutive victory.
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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 victory against 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 ago.
"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 left.
"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 energy."
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 past 37 from the field.
"I can't hit a shot," he said. "I'm in a bad slump right now."
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 season.
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."
|Louisville's Peyton Siva, who winds up with a game-high nine assists, looks for a teammate around UConn's Andre Drummond. (US Presswire)|
|Louisville #24 (19-5) «||29||51||80|
|CT:R. Boatright 18 Pts
CT:A. Oriakhi 7 Reb
CT:R. Boatright 5 Ast
|LOU:C. Smith 16 Pts
LOU:C. Behanan 12 Reb
LOU:P. Siva 9 Ast
|PLAYERS OF THE GAME|
|J. Lamb, G-F||35||3-9||0-0||5||1||2||7|
|S. Napier, G||35||3-11||3-4||3||1||3||9|
|R. Boatright, G||34||5-10||6-8||6||5||1||18|
|A. Drummond, C||16||0-6||0-0||4||0||2||0|
|T. Olander, F||14||1-3||0-0||2||0||1||2|
|A. Oriakhi, F-C||30||4-7||3-4||7||0||0||11|
|R. Smith, F||19||3-7||4-6||5||0||0||10|
|D. Daniels, F||14||1-4||0-0||3||0||3||2|
|K. Bailey, G||3||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|N. Giffey, G-F||3||0-0||0-0||0||0||1||0|
|M. Bradley, F-C||Did Not Play|
|B. Stewart, F||Did Not Play|
|E. Wolf, C||Did Not Play|
|P. Cochrane, G||Did Not Play|
|E. Waite, G||Did Not Play|
|B. Allen, G||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|K. Kuric, G-F||32||3-12||2-2||9||2||1||10|
|P. Siva, G||32||3-10||0-0||1||9||1||7|
|G. Dieng, C||31||7-12||1-2||6||0||2||15|
|C. Behanan, F||27||3-8||0-0||12||2||2||7|
|C. Smith, G||26||5-7||2-3||6||2||1||16|
|J. Swopshire, F||14||4-7||0-1||1||0||1||9|
|R. Smith, G||14||3-8||0-0||4||2||2||6|
|Z. Price, C||8||0-1||0-0||0||0||2||0|
|A. Nunez, F||5||2-2||0-0||0||1||0||6|
|K. Ware, G||5||0-2||0-0||1||2||1||0|
|E. Justice, G||3||2-2||0-0||0||0||3||4|
|T. Henderson, G||3||0-1||0-0||0||2||0||0|
|S. Van Treese, F||Did Not Play|
|W. Blackshear, G-F||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|