For the first six weeks of the season Louisville could not lose. Lately, the Cardinals are having trouble winning - even at home.
Playing without Kyle Kuric doesn’t figure to help.
The No. 14 Cardinals must overcome the absence of their leading scorer Saturday if they hope to continue their recent dominance over visiting DePaul and avoid losing three straight at home for the first time in 11 seasons.
Louisville (13-4, 1-3 Big East) was 12-0 and ranked fourth when it lost 71-68 at home to No. 11 Georgetown on Dec. 28 to open conference play. The Cardinals followed with a 69-62 loss at second-ranked Kentucky before bouncing back to win 73-58 at St. John’s.
That victory could have gotten the Cardinals back on track, but instead they fell 67-65 to Notre Dame in double overtime at home last Saturday. Just when it seemed things could not get worse, Louisville was embarrassed during a 90-59 defeat at Providence on Tuesday.
“We are very disappointed,” coach Rick Pitino said. “We just have to go out and battle the rest of the way.”
That figures to be tougher Saturday without Kuric, the senior who’s averaging a team-high 13.0 points. He sustained a high ankle sprain in Thursday’s practice, and it’s unclear how long he’ll be out.
“When Kyle went down everybody was in shock, it was just a surprise,” Louisville guard Chris Smith said. “We were all surprised because Kyle never gets hurt. … Now everybody else has to step up.”
Louisville, which has not dropped three straight at home since a four-game skid in 2000-01, was already struggling offensively while averaging 65.4 points on 39.4 percent shooting in the last five games - 30.2 from 3-point range. The Cardinals were 4 of 19 from beyond the arc at Providence while failing to reach 60 points for just the third time.
More alarming for Pitino was that his squad allowed the Friars to shoot 52.8 percent while getting outrebounded 40-25. Louisville’s opponents were averaging 59.3 points before Tuesday’s game.
“There’s always that one game a year you can’t explain,” said Pitino, whose team has not lost three in a row overall since Jan. 11-21, 2010. “Nothing goes right, everything goes wrong.”
Plenty has gone right during the Cardinals’ seven-game winning streak over DePaul (10-6, 1-3), which dates to a 60-58 home loss Feb. 25, 2004. Louisville has won 19 of the last 21 meetings, with the only two defeats coming in overtime.
DePaul, however, hung tough at then-No. 15 Louisville last season and was tied at halftime of a 61-57 loss. Kuric scored 19 points while Smith added 10 for the Cardinals.
Smith scored 16 and Kuric had 11 at Providence to finish as the only Cardinals in double figures.
DePaul’s Brandon Young scored 15 points and Cleveland Melvin added 12 against Louisville last season.
Melvin (18.6 points per game) and Young (17.1 ppg) both rank among the Big East’s top scorers, but they combined to go 10 of 30 from the field for 30 points in a 94-73 loss at No. 24 Seton Hall on Tuesday.
DePaul, allowing an average of 87.3 points in conference play, has lost two straight since an 84-81 home win over Pittsburgh on Jan. 5.
The Blue Demons have dropped 29 of 30 Big East road contests and 33 in a row against Top 25 opponents since an 84-76 victory over No. 17 Villanova on Jan. 3, 2008.
“I’m not worried about a stat like that,” coach Oliver Purnell said. “We can’t get down and have to keep trying.”