The Cardinals outscored the Wildcats 45-30 in the second half for an 84-74 victory in front of 21,219 fans at the KFC Yum! Center. Junior point guard Peyton Siva scored a team-high 16 points, w hile three others tallied 14, as Louisville won for the third time in four games and improved to .500 in the Big East after losing three of its first four conference games. The victory moved Louisville (16-5, 4-4), which is ranked No. 25 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, into a tie for ninth-place with Seton Hall in the Big East.
"We were really excited with our second-half execution," UofL coach Rick Pitino said. "We did a lot of good things. Offensively getting to the foul line and passing the basketball. We had a tough time rebounding the ball because we were so small there for a while, but we were 15 for 18 on the break in the game. Obviously we got a lot of great things out of the fast break so we're excited about that, we're very excited to beat a Villanova team that the last two games had been playing really, really well."
While the Cards shot only 39.3 percent (11 for 28) from the field after intermission, they did connect on 20 of their 26 free throw attempts (76.9 percent). Seniors Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric added 14 points apiece, as did freshman forward Chane Behanan, while sophomore center Gorgui Dieng tallied 12 points and 13 rebounds.
"This was a game where everybody was involved, everybody played their part," Smith said.
Louisville led 17-8 early before Villanova (10-11, 3-6) rallied. The Wildcats took advantage of the absence of Behanan who went to the bench with his third foul with 12:48 to play in the first half. VU outscored the Cards 24-10 in the paint in the first 20 minutes as it outrebounded Louisville 22-16 and outscored it 10-6 in second-chance points to lead 44-39 at halftime.
"We were just a little tentative because of foul trouble," Pitino said. "We just basically surrendered some baskets and we were trying to get a foul call each time. But they're very good at throwing the ball inside, they treat it like man-to-man (defense) and Gorgui had to play a little tentative because of foul trouble."
Early in the second half, though, Villanova star guard Maalik Wayns – who came in averaging 30.7 points over his last three games – picked up his third and fourth fouls in a 6-second span in the first 1:41 of the second half.
Wayns, who nine points and two fouls at halftime, was whistled for his third foul 1:35 into the second half, then picked up his fourth six seconds later when he was called for a charge on the heels of a VU steal.
"We did a lot of good things, we wanted to draw charges on him," Pitino said of his team's defense on Wayns. "He has fouled out of two games. They got a bad break and we got a bad break. We tried to get Chane out of the game before his fourth foul and they tried to get Wayns out of the game right before his fourth foul."
When the Big East Player of the Week went to the bench Villanova led 44-42, when he came back the Wildcats trailed 61-51.
Almost two minutes after Wayns went to the bench Behanan, who didn't start the second half because of his three fouls, returned to the game. He made his presence felt immediately, dunking home a feed from Dieng. That began a 17-5 surge by the Cards. Behanan had eight points in that span.
"He's a monster," Siva said of Behanan. "Once he learns the defensive schemes Coach P has he's going to be a great player."
Louisville led by 10 when Wayns returned, but the junior sparked an 8-0 run by the Wildcats to make it 63-61 with 7:35 to play. The Cards responded with five of the next six points before Villanova trimmed Louisville's lead to two, 67-65, once again.
That's as close as the Wildcats would get, though.
Wayns' rebound basket off his own miss trimmed Louisville's lead to four, at 73-69, with 2:32 to play. However on the Cardinals' ensuing possession reserve forward Jared Swopshire drove baseline and fed center Gorgui Dieng for an easy inside basket. Then, after Dominic Cheek missed a 3-pointer, Swopshire struck again. This time hitting a 3-pointer from the corner, off a drive-draw-and-dish feed from Siva, as the shot clock was about to expire.
That gave Louisville a 78-69 lead with 1:12 remaining. The Cardinals then sealed the game at the free throw line, hitting 6 of 8 from the foul line in the final 57 seconds and 20 for 26 in the second half.
"It wasn't one specific thing, but it was extra passes at a good time and good execution and when they missed a shot there was a big-time offensive rebound," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "And they did a good job of getting to the foul line, little things that good teams do.
"I think when you play Louisville you look like you aren't making the extra pass, they are better than anybody at that. If you watch us at one end and them at the other, we are not as pretty as them. They are really good offensively at sharing the ball…really good…and at making extra passes."
It was similar to the finish at Pitt on Saturday night, when Louisville shot 70 percent (14 for 20) in the second half of its 73-62 victory over the Panthers.
"We had five great practices leading up to the Pittsburgh game, the first time in a while our guys were laughing, having a great time, totally focused," Pitino said. "It's the first time we've been able to practice five straight days the whole season and we got a lot out of it. We improved a lot, we didn't have to worry about shuffling a lot of guys around, we just worked with the people who are there."
The Cards next have to worry about Seton Hall. They play on the Pirates' home court at 8 p.m. Saturday night.