Morning After: Louisville dunks DePaul

The University of Louisville men's basketball team won its 23rd game of the season and is now 11-4 in the Big East Conference. The Cardinals tagged DePaul 79-58 in Rosemont, Ill., and are now just one game behind Georgetown with three games to play in the race for the Big East championship. Here are a few thoughts:

1. A good win to get out of the way: The biggest game of the week is on Saturday when the Cardinals play at Syracuse. But this was a huge victory because the Cardinals were supposed to win – and they did. A loss at DePaul would have hurt far worse than a loss at Syracuse. DePaul jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the game but really after the Cardinals took a 10-8 lead there wasn't much to be concerned with. No, the Cardinals didn't ever totally shake the Blue Demons until late but you never got the feeling this one was in doubt – and that's a big step on the road. It was a must-win before one of the biggest games of the season, in many regards it could have been a trap game – but the Cardinals took care of business.

2. A ridiculous dunk from Behanan: Yes, it was unreal. It happened late in the first half when Louisville's pressure forced an errant pass near midcourt. Chane Behanan picked it off and went flying towards the basket, taking two steps inside the three-point line and soaring to the rim. He dunked on DePaul guard Worrell Clahar and left us with one of the best dunks of the season in college basketball. It was originally called a charge (nice job, Mike Roberts) but after further review, Clahar was in the circle under the basket, making it a block. No matter how many points Behanan picked up for the bucket, it was impressive. Behanan is playing better and better all the time. He had 10 points and nine rebounds against the Blue Demons. Oh, and one dunk we won't soon forget.

3. Russ Smith and passing the ball: Rick Pitino said after the game that the Cardinals can be a great team "when Russ Smith passes the ball." Smith reached the 1,000-point mark for his career with 17 points in the game and also had five assists. He had one stretch where he turned the ball over several times but other than that it was a pretty good game for Smith, who also had four steals. But Pitino is correct. When Smith passes the ball, others get involved and eventually it's going to open things up more on offense for Smith. It's not as easy as it was early in the season when teams just let Smith go off. He has to play smarter. The smarter Russ Smith plays, the longer this season is going to last.

4. Balance and fewer shots from the outside: Two things I noticed after watching the game again was the balance and how much better this team is when several players are scoring. Smith had 17, Peyton Siva added 16, while Montrezl Harrell had 11 points in 18 minutes and Gorgui Dieng and Behanan added 10 apiece. With that kind of balance, the Cardinals are going to be tough to beat. If you notice also, the Cardinals are slowing on taking so many three-pointers. After going 0-fot-5 in the first half, U of L was 2 of 3 in the second half from long range. Remember earlier this season after the Cardinals took 121 three-pointers in the first five games, I said there would be a time when that number would be single-digits. It's been getting lower and lower and the Cardinals are starting to play smarter and take better shots, especially from long range.

5. A few more leftovers: The Cardinals have now won four in a row since the five overtime loss to Notre Dame. . . . U of L is still one of only four teams in the country – Indiana, Kansas, Colorado State – without a double-digit loss. . . . Peyton Siva had two steals, moving him into third place on the school's all-time steals list and just eight behind leader Darrell Griffith. . . . Pitino lauded Stephan Van Treese for his play in 15 minutes. Van Treese finished with two points, three rebounds and two blocked shots. . . . Because of the weather, the Cardinals didn't leave Louisville until 2 p.m. on Wednesday. It marks the third time this season the team has traveled on the same day as the game. The record is now 2-1 in those.

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