By Rick Cushing, The Sports Xchange
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- After an emotional win over archrival Kentucky last Saturday, it's not surprising that Louisville may have been a bit tired for Wednesday's game with Providence.
But after allowing the visiting Friars to jump out to a big early lead, the No. 4-ranked Cardinals bounced back in a big way themselves, coasting to an 80-62 win in front of 21,305 at the KFC Yum! Center.
Russ Smith paced the Cards (13-1) with 23 points. Four others scored in double figures: Gorgui Dieng and Luke Hancock each with 11 points, and Chane Behanan and Peyton Siva each with 10. Dieng also had 11 rebounds and four blocks, while Siva had eight assists. Behanan also had four steals, and Hancock had three steals. It was Louisville's eighth straight victory.
"Our defense is nowhere near where we want it to be," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said after the game. "I think our guys realize that and will continue to work on it. We got a good victory tonight, a good Big East victory, and once our defense catches up with our offense, we have a chance to be a really special team."
Kadeem Batts led the Friars (8-4) with 17 points. Bryce Cotton, the Big East's leading scorer at 22 ppg coming in, was held to just 16, and Vincent Council added 11. LaDontae Henton had seven points and 11 rebounds. Providence lost its third game in a row.
Louisville (12-1) shot 52.6 percent for the game, 62.5 percent in the second half despite missing two late showboat dunk shots. The Cards hit 7 of 16 three-point shots (5 of 7 in the second half) and made just eight turnovers while forcing 16, including 10 steals. Providence (8-3) shot 44.6 percent for the game but just 40 percent in the second half. The Friars were 8 of 20 on treys.
Louisville shot 45.5 percent overall but made just 2 of 11 three-point shots. The Friars shot 50 percent both overall and on treys (5 of 10).
"I think we just played the best team in the country, without a doubt," Providence coach Ed Cooley said. "I've seen them play several times. They play with a lot of energy, they play at a great pace, and they have a lot of good players. We did have spurts where we looked good. Turnovers hurt us. We're not quite there yet. Give credit to Louisville. They played well."
Providence jumped out to leads of 8-0 and 13-3, while Louisville shot two air balls and made three turnovers in the opening four minutes. Then the real Cardinals showed up, regrouping for a 15-5 run that tied the game at 18-18. After Providence responded with a 6-2 spurt, Louisville outscored its opponents 17-2 to lead 37-26 before the Friars closed the gap to 37-31 at halftime.
A significant portion of the crowd left the game in the second half so they could watch the nationally-televised Sugar Bowl game between Louisville and Florida. Only about one-third of the crowd remained by game's end. It was the Big East Conference opener for both teams.
Louisville was coming off a highly charged victory over Kentucky on Saturday and was a 19-point favorite over Providence on Wednesday. Providence had blasted the Cardinals 90-59 last season, and the memory of that humiliation lingered.
"Providence is a very talented offensive basketball team," Pitino said. "They're just now getting totally healthy. Certain teams play other teams really well. There's just something about it. It was a debacle last year (when Providence won 90-59). They do a lot of good things against us.
"We're doing some things well. We're not turning it over. Once Gorgui (Dieng) gets his rhythm back -- he was out four weeks -- we'll be much better."
Smith led Louisville with 10 points, three assists and a steal in the first half. Behanan and Dieng each added eight points.
Providence was led by Bryce Cotton with 11 points.
Louisville shot 45.5 percent overall but made just 2 of 11 3-point shots. The Friars shot 50 percent overall and on 3s (5 of 10).
It was the Big East opener for both teams.
NOTES: Cotton, who missed the previous game with a sore knee, returned to action for Providence. He leads the Big East in scoring at 22 points per game. ... Providence senior point guard Vincent Council, who returned last game after missing 10 games with an injured hamstring, made his second straight start. He led the Big East in assists last season at 7.5 per game and led the Friars in scoring at 15.9 point per game. This season he is averaging just 4.0 ppg and 2.5 apg, having made just 1 of 11 shots. ... Dieng, who returned against Kentucky last Saturday after missing seven games with a broken wrist, was back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench against Kentucky. The 6-foot-11 junior is averaging 7.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and two blocks a game. Last season he led the Big East in blocks at 3.2 a game. ... Louisville coach Rick Pitino started his head coaching career at Providence and led the Friars to the Final Four in 1987, his third and final year at the school.