Louisville got Russ Smith back on track and re-established its typical inside scoring.
Now, coach Rick Pitino would like to see his star guard take his show on the road while his team continues to dominate the paint offensively.
The 12th-ranked Cardinals look to snap out of a road funk on Sunday when they play at South Florida, which is trying to end a seven-game skid.
Louisville has lost three of its last four road games but has taken 12 of its last 13 meetings against the Bulls, with the wins coming by an average of 19.8 points. Louisville claimed a 64-38 home victory against South Florida on Jan. 12, holding the Bulls to 26.7 percent field-goal shooting.
Though Smith’s 18.6 points per game rank among the Big East’s leaders, the junior was the subject of criticism following his club’s 104-101 five-overtime loss at Notre Dame on Feb 9. He needed 19 shots to get 21 points, provoking questions about his shot selection.
Smith was more efficient on Thursday, scoring 24 points in a 72-58 home win against St. John’s. He’s averaging 20.9 points on 44.9 percent shooting in 13 home games, in which the Cardinals are 12-1. Away from home, however, Smith’s average dips to 15.1 points on 30.1 percent shooting, including a 5-of-28 mark from 3-point range as Louisville is 5-3.
“I thought he gave us the spurt we needed,” Pitino said of Smith, who scored 21 of his 24 in the second half, including 12 straight in a 3:03 span. “Now we’ve got to get him to play that way on the road.”
After being outscored in the paint by Notre Dame, 42-38, Louisville bounced back for a 32-16 advantage against the Red Storm. The Cardinals averaged a plus-13.3 points-in-the-paint margin in the three games prior to the loss to the Irish.
Gorgui Deng tallied 10 points and a career-high 17 rebounds - his seventh double-double of the season - in the win over St. John’s.
“Coach said if we learn our lesson from the game against Notre Dame and it helps us to win a lot of games, then it was worth it,” Dieng said.
South Florida (10-14, 1-11) is 0-6 against Top 25 teams this season. The Bulls have victimized themselves lately with poor second-half play, getting outscored by an average of 9.0 points in the final 20 minutes during their seven-game losing streak.
They held a 36-25 halftime lead at home against Providence on Wednesday, but a 23-2 run by the Friars to start the second half led to a 76-66 defeat.
“Unfortunately I’ve seen this same song before,” coach Stan Heath said. “It was a bad song in the second half. We let that momentum get away from us and they went on a great run.”
Victor Rudd scored 26 points - three shy of a season high - to help South Florida avoid being held to 50 or fewer for the fifth time in seven games. But the Bulls offense continues to struggle, with its 39.5 percent shooting ranking just outside the nation’s bottom 25.
Rudd’s performance came after he sat out the previous game with a groin injury.
“I played hard,” he said. “It’s still hurting me a little bit, but I did the best I could to try to get the win.”
South Florida surrendered 17 points to Peyton Siva on 7-of-11 shooting in the first meeting while Dieng added 12 and 16 rebounds. Smith struggled, going 2 of 13 for eight points.
Louisville is 18-1 when holding the opposition to fewer than 70 points, while South Florida averages 60.0 ppg.