Louisville's often-stifling defense has had trouble living up to Rick Pitino's lofty standards at times this season. If it continues to look anything like it did in the Cardinals' latest game, the legendary coach shouldn't have many complaints.
Fifth-ranked Louisville shouldn't have much trouble using its frenetic pressure to great effect Saturday when it hosts a UMKC team that's had trouble putting the ball in the basket.
The Cardinals (7-1) lost center Gorgui Dieng to a broken wrist in their 84-61 win over then-No. 13 Missouri on Nov. 24, and struggled without their interior presence in a loss to then-No. 5 Duke and a tight home victory over Illinois State last Saturday.
Dieng is expected back Dec. 19 against Florida International, but based on the Cardinals' performance Tuesday at Charleston, they should be just fine in their final two games without him. Louisville had a season-high 18 steals and forced 27 turnovers in an 80-38 rout of the Cougars that left even the rather critical Pitino satisfied.
"It's the best we've looked this year on defense," Pitino said. "We worked on it all week.''
The Cardinals are forcing 21.9 turnovers per game - second-best in the nation - and are among the top 10 in scoring defense, allowing 53.9 points.
That doesn't bode well for UMKC (4-4), which averages 64.6 points and turns it over 15.5 times per game - tied for 255th in the country.
The Kangaroos have won two of their last three - beating North Dakota 73-70 on Wednesday for their first road win in a year - but their previous experience with a top-5 opponent didn't go well. Then-No. 3 Ohio State held UMKC to 25.5 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers in a 91-45 win Nov. 23.
UMKC, which has never beaten a Top 25 team, has averaged 43.3 points in three losses to ranked opponents since the start of last season.
While Saturday's contest doesn't figure to be much of a struggle for Pitino's team, Louisville can stand to improve in one area in particular. The Cardinals are shooting just 30.1 percent from 3-point range, yet they're attempting 21.6 per game - second-most in the Big East.
Louisville's full-court press can allow it to take a few of those risks at the other end, but the backcourt duo that's forcing many of those turnovers has kept the Cardinals' offense flowing. Point guard Peyton Siva has averaged 16.0 points and shot 52.2 percent in his past four games, while Russ Smith is averaging a team-high 19.0 this season.
Those two certainly impressed Charleston coach Doug Wojcik.
"Peyton Siva is so in control of what he is doing," Wojcik said. "Russ Smith is a big-time scorer and just finds ways. Peyton is an NBA point guard. Both are very good. Both of them have played so long together, they are like brothers and play off of each other."
If Siva can get some more shots for Wayne Blackshear, Louisville could blossom into a true title contender. The much-hyped sophomore guard showed flashes as a freshman after returning in February from a torn labrum, but his 18 points at Charleston - which came in 21 minutes - were a career high.
No UMKC player averages in double figures, though senior guard Thomas Staton has totaled 29 points in his last two games - starting for the first time this season in Wednesday's victory.
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