Better practice habits lead to Cards big win

No. 5 Louisville bounced back from its biggest loss of the season with its biggest win Sunday afternoon in Freedom Hall.

Just three days after getting embarrassed 90-57 by Notre Dame on the road, the Cardinals rebounded with one of their most impressive performances this season, a 99-54 thrashing of DePaul.

Louisville came into the game struggling on offense, scoring just 19 first half points in its last two games. Sunday, it took Louisville just three-seconds to get on the scoreboard and the Cards had their best offensive output of the season, topping their previous high 94 points against Austin Peay on Dec. 13.

The Cardinals jumped out to a 13-0 lead and never looked back against the Blue Demons. Louisville was highly efficient on offense, shooting 59 percent from the floor, including 18-36 (50 percent) from three-point range. It was the first time Louisville shot better than 50 percent since a 69-63 win over West Virginia on Jan. 31.

Rick Pitino said improved execution in practice the past few days led to his team's outstanding performance vs. DePaul.

"We had our finest two practices of the season (after the Notre Dame defeat)," Pitino said. "In the last two days everybody worked on the things we had to work on and we looked like a real good basketball team, especially yesterday practice, which was the best of the season. For the first time all year I thought we could be a very good basketball team. I never felt very good from an execution standpoint until yesterday."

The key to Louisville's offensive rejuvenation? Better passing. The Cardinals made 39 baskets against DePaul and handed out 25 assists. That's the most impressive stat in a game where Louisville had many impressive statistics.

"People think it's our shooting that's lacking," Pitino said. "It's our passing."

Earl Clark almost went for a triple-double
against the Blue Demons.

"Once we take good open shots off assists we're a good shooting team," Preston Knowles said. "Sometimes we take challenged shots and it makes it seem like we can't shoot well. But when we take good shots we're able to knock it down."

Louisville also played better defense than they did against Notre Dame Thursday night. The Irish shredded the Cardinals defense, making 54 percent from the field. DePaul wasn't as effective shooting against Louisville's pressure defense. The Cards limited the Blue Demons to just 34 percent shooting, out-rebounded them 41-30, forced 16 turnovers and blocked four shots.

Louisville got a big boosts from junior forward Reginald Delk, who started in place of Terrence Williams. Williams re-injured his right shooting wrist in practice Saturday and played just 16 minutes against the Blue Demons. In his place, the seldom used Delk scored 10 points, hitting 4-of-4 shots, including 2-of-2 three-pointers.

Though, Williams was hurting, Pitino wanted to get him in the game against the Blue Demons. Williams didn't take a shot but did hand out five assists.

"If you don't play T-Will at all he gets tendonitis and it gets very stiff," Pitino explained. "He landed hard in practice trying to dunk a ball and we thought he broke his wrist. He's been playing poorly the last two games because of that wrist. So I played him sparingly. I wanted to get 10-12 minutes that's it."

The Cardinals also got a huge performance off the bench from sophomore guard Preston Knowles. Knowles played only 13 minutes but scored a game-high 19 points, hitting 7-of-9 shots including 5-of-7 three's. Knowles also grabbed four rebounds and came up with a pair of steals.

"I felt good and our team did a good job in practice the last couple days," Knowles said. "If you practice and work hard it's going to carry over into the game. I think our team did a good job of focusing in practice. T-Will, Earl, Jerry, Sosa and Andre having our young players stay focused. Once you get a whole team focused good things are going to happen."

Earl Clark also played well for Louisville, nearly putting up a triple-double. Clark finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists. He also blocked two shots and made two steals.

Louisville's win over DePaul improved the Cardinals record in Big East play to 10-2 – tied for second place with Pittsburgh and Marquette. More importantly, the victory kept Louisville solidly among the top four teams in the Big East standings – two full games ahead of fifth-place Villanova. The top four finishers in the Big East essentially receive a double-bye in next month's expanded Big East tournament.

Now Louisville has three days to prepare for Providence. The Friars have won two straight games and stand 8-5 in the Big East – three games behind Louisville in the loss column and alone in sixth place in the league standings.

"We have to be ready for Providence health-wise because they shoot the ball like Notre Dame," Pitino said. "I think (T-Will) will be healthy by the time Providence rolls around."

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