The Cards departed Louisville Friday for a 2 PM game against Rutgers Saturday afternoon. The Scarlet Knights are normally tough at home, but Gary Watters squad has lost their last three home games, and four of their last five games, including a 79-69 home loss to Providence Wednesday night.
Louisville, on the other hand, snapped a three-game losing streak with a 67-50 win over the Bearcats. Rick Pitino's squad held Cincinnati to just 30 percent shooting from the field and forced 25 turnovers.
"That was a great win for us, and we needed it," Pitino said. "Obviously, we came through with great defense."
"It was definitely a confidence builder," said Taquan Dean, adding that his ankle felt "OK" afterward.
Brandon Jenkins said he was relieved after the win over the Bearcats.
"It's a relief to get a win, but we've still got two tough opponents coming up in Rutgers and Villanova," Jenkins said. "We can't let up."
Dean missed the Cardinals two previous games, losses to St. John's and UConn. Without Dean, the Cardinals leading scorer, Louisville struggled on offense, scoring less than 60 points in the three previous outings before the Cincinnati game. Against UConn, Louisville simply couldn't hit from the outside, making just 2-20 three-pointers.
With Dean, the Cards fared better offensively. The 67 points were the most the team had scored since an 81 point outing against UC Davis more than two weeks ago. Louisville also hit 10 threes against the Bearcats, including four from Dean, who finished with 16 points and two assists.
"You've got to understand what he means to our basketball team. We're one of the youngest teams in America and he's heart and soul of our team," Pitino said of Dean. "You take away the heart and soul of our team and we still played those top 10 teams tough without him."
The Cards also got improved play from sophomore Juan Palacios against the Bearcats. The 6-8 forward had 19 points and 12 rebounds, his first double-double outing since a December blowout against Prairie View A&M.
"I didn't think he'd ever play again," Dean said. "For him to be back playing shows his heart and dedication."
"Tello's got to get tougher," Pitino added. "I kid around with him that he's playing like a kid from a rich neighborhood in Long Island rather than Colombia. But he played hard. I think he's working really hard. He's coming around, and his ankle's getting better."
Just as Dean and Palacios are returning to full strength, 6-11 David Padgett re-injured his right knee. Pitino said his talented sophomore center injured his knee during the first half against Cincinnati, though didn't think afterward he'd miss much time.
"David hurt his knee in the first half," Pitino said. "He tried to go in the second half, but could not go. I don't think it's anything serious. Hopefully tomorrow it feels better."
Now the Cardinals must get ready for life on the road. After Saturday's game against Rutgers, the Cardinals will travel to Philadelphia for a Monday night game against seventh-ranked Villanova. The Wildcats beat Louisville 76-67 at Freedom Hall earlier this month.
"You go to Rutgers, you go to Villanova, then it gets a lot easier - at Syracuse, at West Virginia, at UConn," Pitino joked after the UC game. "We've got to sweep the board at home and try to pull an upset on the road. You win any game on the road in this conference and it's an upset."
Watch Louisville-Rutgers Saturday afternoon at the Bluegrass Brewing Company on Shelbyville Road. BBC is the official Inside The Ville game watch headquarters. Enjoy food and drink specials during every Louisville game at the BBC!