Louisville’s offense has been formidable for most of the season, leading the Big East in scoring. It’s been the Cardinals’ defense, though that has keyed their current surge.
They’ll look for a sixth consecutive win Monday night and Rick Pitino’s 300th with Louisville as they host Cincinnati, which has struggled severely on offense in recent weeks.
The eighth-ranked Cardinals (24-5, 12-4) haven’t looked back since a five-overtime loss at Notre Dame on Feb. 9, winning five in a row by an average of 15.2 points. The first four, however, were against opponents at .500 or below in Big East play, making Saturday’s 58-53 win at then-No. 12 Syracuse the most impressive.
Louisville, which has held its last five opponents to 35.5 percent shooting, limited Syracuse to 19 first-half points. The Cardinals also forced 16 turnovers, their fourth straight contest with at least that many.
Opponents average 18.7 turnovers, second most in the nation.
“This was like a tournament game,” said swingman Luke Hancock, a 35.8 percent 3-point shooter who was 4 of 5 from long range against the Orange. “It was that kind of atmosphere. This prepares us well. It definitely gives us confidence going into the end of the season. We want to win out the rest of our games and this was another step.”
Cincinnati (20-9, 8-8) ended a three-game skid with a 61-56 home win over Connecticut on Saturday, but its offense continues to be inefficient. The Bearcats have shot 34.9 percent over the last 11 games while going 5-6, making better than 40 percent once in that stretch.
They beat the Huskies by amassing a 21-1 advantage in points off turnovers.
Sean Kilpatrick has been Cincinnati’s only reliable scoring option, leading his team in points in nine of 11 games while averaging 17.7 on the season.
“I know during his redshirt year that the way the guy attacked practice with the life and energy that he has, that if you could transform that to everybody, everybody would be a much better employer, worker and player,” said coach Mick Cronin, an assistant under Pitino at Louisville from 2001-03. “He just has an unbelievable work ethic.”
While Kilpatrick flourishes, his backcourt mate Cashmere Wright has yet to discover his shooting stroke since spraining his right knee Jan. 15. Wright averaged 15.1 points and 47.2 percent shooting - 44.2 percent from beyond the arc - in his first 18 games. However, he’s scoring 8.2 points per game while shooting 22.9 percent and 19.7 percent on 3s in his last 10 games.
Louisville is experiencing similar shooting struggles with point guard Peyton Siva. A 38.6 percent 3-point shooter in his first 16 games, Siva has gone 6 for 37 (29.8 percent) from beyond the arc over his last 13 and was 0 for 8 while going scoreless against Syracuse. Pitino benched him with the game tied at 48 and 1:39 remaining.
“I don’t like going away from him because I have so much confidence in him but I had to win this game,” Pitino said.
Louisville has won six of the last seven home meetings in the series and took the latest matchup by a 50-44 score in the Big East championship game March 10.