ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP)—David Padgett sat through those early losses and wondered what might have been. The thought crossed Terrence Williams’ mind, too.
“There’s no point thinking about the past anymore,” he said.
Not when the present feels this good and the future looks so bright. Padgett is healthy, and No. 23 Louisville is rolling.
Williams tied a season-high with 22 points and Padgett set one with 20 to lead the Cardinals to an 88-68 victory over DePaul and their 10th win in 12 games on Tuesday.
It was an easy night for Louisville (19-6, 9-3 Big East), which jumped into the Top 25 and shook up the Big East race by beating then-No. 16 Marquette and then-No. 6 Georgetown last week.
The Cardinals scored eight straight to start the game and 19 of the first 24. They led 39-31 at the break after a 10-point run by DePaul late in the first half but pulled away early in the second. They forced 16 turnovers and countless rushed shots with their press as DePaul went 23-for-63 from the field, leading to easy looks on the other end.
Williams and Padgett, whose previous high was 18 points against Georgetown on Saturday, each hit 9 of 12 shots, and Louisville was a scorching 36-of-62. Williams also grabbed eight rebounds and to say he fed off Padgett would be an understatement.
“How much do people eat off plates?” Williams wondered. “We feed off him a lot because he’s our point-center, our point-forward, our point-shooting guard. He’s everything because he rebounds the ball, he passes the ball, he leads us. He could lead us out of the closet, lead us to the ocean. He’s just our everything.”
And when Padgett broke his right kneecap in the second game, against Jackson State on Nov. 18, it was a huge blow. He did not return until Jan. 1, and although Louisville lost to Cincinnati that day, this run started right after that.
“You throw in the fact that we lost a couple of games, and I was thinking, ‘God, I wish I could be out there to help those guys,”’ said Padgett, who suffered a season-ending knee injury as a sophomore two years ago. “I tried to stay patient and do whatever I could off the court. I was trying to lead these guys as much as possible and be like another coach. It was frustrating.”
He said he’s pain-free now.
For DePaul, this was an excruciating night, though.
Dar Tucker scored 22 and Mac Koshwal had 15 rebounds for the Blue Demons (10-14, 5-7), who have lost five of six and is in danger of missing the Big East tournament.
“I think they do a really, really good job of getting out on shooters,” DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said. “(Padgett) does such a terrific job supporting and moving everybody around. He’s so physical inside that when you do get it inside, you get in a stalemate.”
Louisville has done just about everything right during this recent surge.
The Cardinals seem to have the consistency they lacked earlier in season, when senior Juan Palacios and Padgett were nursing knee injuries. Now, they’re looking more like the team that won 12 of its final 16 games last season and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.
They had held three straight opponents below 60 points and were seventh in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (37.7 percent) entering the game.
DePaul, simply, was no match.
After rallying from a 16-point deficit to beat South Florida 69-61 at home on Saturday, there were few dramatics this time.
Louisville simply jumped on the Blue Demons at the start and led 37-21 after Williams hit Palacios with a no-look pass for a layup with 3:15 left in the half. DePaul scored the next 10 points, with Tucker hitting a 3-pointer, converting a three-point play and throwing down a fastbreak dunk that drew a roar from the crowd with 26 seconds left. Williams answered with a leaner with two seconds left to make it an eight-point game, and Louisville quickly put away DePaul in the second.