The Cardinals, playing without their leading scorer (Preston Knowles), best rebounder (Rakeem Buckles), top shot blocker (Gorgui Dieng) and top returning scorer and rebounder from last season (Jared Swopshire), had just enough to exorcise the DePaul Blue Demons 61-57 Saturday night at the KFC Yum! Center.
"We're hanging on and doing the best we can, but it's very, very difficult," UofL coach Rick Pitino said. "It was great courage by the guys. We're just happy to get a victory tonight playing without four terrific basketball players."
Junior forward Kyle Kuric came off the bench to score 19 points, while Chris Smith and Terrence Jennings tallied 10 points apiece. Jennings also had eight rebounds and four blocked shots, while sophomore point guard Peyton Siva had six points and 10 assists against only one turnover.
"Everybody just stepped it up to another level," said Jennings, the junior center, who was 5-for-8 from the field with two assists. "DePaul, even though they haven't got a conference win, they're still a very tough team. We knew they were going to be...we knew what we had to do, keeping playing all the way to the wire."
It took a DePaul turnover and foul with five seconds left to seal the deal for the Cards (18-5, 7-3 in the Big East), who are ranked 15th in the Associated Press Top 25 and 13th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.
The victory kept Louisville in a three-way tie for second place (along with Villanova and Notre Dame) in the conference behind league-leading, and fourth-ranked, Pittsburgh (21-2, 9-1). UofL travels to always tough South Bend, Ind. to take on the Fighting Irish (No. 9 in AP, No. 8 in ESPN/USA Today) at 7 p.m. Wednesday night.But before that the Cards had to take care of a determined DePaul team that led by as many as nine points (32-23) with 5 minutes, 10 seconds left in the first half.
However that's when Kuric and Siva went to work, leading Louisville's half-ending 11-2 run.
"He made some great passes," Kuric said.
First Siva dished to Kuric for a three-pointer at the 3:05 mark, then he found him for a layup 56 seconds later, then found him for another layin 40 seconds after that.
"I think Siva really hurt us, although our half-court pressure bothered him," DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. "He had some really critical assists that kept them in it and gave them momentum or gave them a little bit of a lead. I thought he was really good. We helped out a little bit too much on him and as a result he was able to get them some easy scores. His easy assists and scores, along with their offensive rebounds, and second and third opportunities really hurt us."
After a Blue Demons' basket Stephan Van Treese converted one of those offensive rebound opportunities with a follow dunk to make it 34-32 with 46 seconds left in the half before Siva hit a pair of foul shots with seven seconds remaining to tie it at 34-all at intermission.
DePaul (6-16, 0-10) shot 50 percent (14 for 28) from the field in the first half.
The Blue Demons regained the lead early in the second half. UofL took it back briefly before DePaul fought back again to go ahead 50-49 on Brandon Young's layup with 9:10 to play. That was its last lead, though.
Kuric hit a three-pointer off a feed from Jennings before Smith hit a jumper off a pass from Mike Marra. The Blue Demons scored again before Jennings hit a layup. Neither team would score for nearly the next five minutes.
DePaul pulled within two (56-54) on a jumper by Krys Faber before Siva hit 1 of 2 free throws and Kuric hit a three-pointer. Jimmy Drew answered with a three of his own with 1:24 to play to make it 60-57.
UofL turned the ball over on its next possession before Young missed a three-pointer for the Blue Demons. Jennings rebounded, but missed the front end of a one-and-one situation.
DePaul worked the clock down, but Faber turned it over along the sideline under duress from Siva. The point guard hit 1 of 2 free throws to ice the game for the Cards.
"We've just really got to keep fighting through it," Van Treese said. "We have a lot of heart, I think, to have a lot of injuries and pull this game out like we did."
"We can become a good basketball team when we get healthy, but right now it's very difficult," Pitino said.
The Cards could get Buckles back for next Saturday's home game against Syracuse.
"It feels fine," Buckles said of his broken finger on his left hand. "I should be playing, I'm just waiting for the doctor to clear me."
He goes in for an x-ray Thursday.
"Hopefully Thursday we'll get some good news," Buckles said.