TAMPA, Fla. -- Louisville sophomore Chane Behanan believes his spectacular behind-the-back assist in Sunday's 59-41 win over the University of South Florida could make for his first ESPN SportsCenter highlight.
"Hopefully, the (NBA) All-Star game doesn't take it all up," Behanan said with a smile.
With 8 minutes left, Behanan raced out of bounds along the right side before hitting guard Russ Smith in stride for a layup, padding the 12th-ranked Cardinals' double-digit lead.
"An incredible play," coach Rick Pitino said. "A pretty special play."
But it was also a fitting play for the Cardinals (21-5, 9-4 Big East), whose pressure defense and pinpoint passing were big reasons for their blowout over the Bulls. USF (10-15, 1-12), which lost its eighth straight game, stayed within six points early in the second half, but had too many long scoreless stretches, shooting just 24.5 percent and turning it over 16 times.
"They're a great defensive team," USF freshman guard Javontae Hawkins said. "I think they're the No. 1 defensive team in the country, so you've got to give them credit."
The Cardinals struggled from 3-point range, going just 2 for 13, but were able to get a lot of easy baskets in transition, scoring 23 of their 59 points off turnovers.
Pitino said Smith was their "catalyst," with a team-high 15 points and four assists.
"We're not the greatest shooting team, (but) that doesn't mean we can't be a great scoring team," Pitino said. "As long as you pass the ball and score off your defense, like we did (Sunday). We've got to get layups to be successful, and we did (Sunday)."
The Bulls don't have the inside presence they had in last year's NCAA Tournament run, resulting in their fall to last place in the Big East. They rely more on outside shots, and used five first-half 3-pointers in the first half to cut Louisville's 16-point lead down to eight at the break.
"We had a lot of momentum on our side," senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick said.
But Behanan said Louisville focused on cutting down the Bulls' 3-pointers in the second half, when USF went 0 for 11 from behind the arc. The Bulls also didn't get a lot out of one of its top scorers, junior forward Victor Rudd, who followed up a 26-point performance against Providence by tallying just seven (with six turnovers) against Louisville.
Rudd did soar for an impressive tip dunk in the Bulls' attempted comeback, and after two free throws by sophomore guard Anthony Collins with 13 minutes left, USF was within six. However, Louisville's full-court pressure defense continued to cause problems, as USF was held without a field goal the next 7 minutes.
The Cardinals got a boost off the bench from sophomore Wayne Blackshear (12 points), as well as Behanan (12 points). On Behanan's play of the game, he chased a loose ball out of bounds, saying he saw Smith in his peripheral vision before delivering the behind-the-back pass.
"I got good control of it," Behanan said. "And I just snapped it to him."
Behanan said it all started with their defense, though. In two games against Louisville this season, the Bulls have scored a combined 79 points. Senior guard Jawanza Poland was the only USF player in double figures, coming off the bench to score 11.
"I think this year, we've just got much more talent than them," Pitino said. "Last year, they had a lot of players that could do multiple things. ... I just think they're in a rebuilding year, and it happens that way. ... What happens is, the losing keeps going, the losing keeps going, and then as the other teams make one or two runs, you say, 'Oh no, here we go again.' "
Pitino said USF is just "one or two guys away from having a very good team" and USF coach Stan Heath agrees. Heath noted how much the Bulls miss departed senior forwards Ron Anderson and Augustus Gilchrist, but still didn't see a season like this coming.
"After the nonconference season we were 9-3, I thought this team could find a way to win some games," Heath said. "What I didn't anticipate is this league got better. This league got a lot better than last year. Some of the in-between teams got a lot better and that's where I think the difference is right now. I've been here six years, this is probably the best the league has ever been."
Notes: It was the seventh game this season USF scored less than 50 points. ... Louisville, one of the nation's leaders in steals, racked up 10 against USF. ... The Cardinals improved to 27-4 all-time against the Bulls, including 11-2 in Tampa. ... Forward Kore White quietly had a strong game for the Bulls with nine rebounds.