As solid as Gorgui Dieng has been in the paint, Louisville could become that much more formidable if he turns into a bigger force offensively.
Dieng has keyed the defense strengthening recently, and now he looks to provide more versatility to what already is the Big East's top scoring offense as the 10th-ranked Cardinals travel to play struggling DePaul on Wednesday night.
Louisville (22-5, 10-4) has won three straight and six of seven - the only loss came in five overtimes to Notre Dame - and tops the conference with 74.2 points per game.
Dieng hadn't been too major a factor in that potent offense, scoring more than 12 in just three games all season heading into Saturday's matchup with Seton Hall. He clearly has played a big role in the Cardinals' success, though, ranking second in the Big East with 10.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.
However, the 6-foot-11 junior broke through for a career-best 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting in a 79-61 win over the Pirates. Dieng, whose previous season high was 17, showcased a mid-range shot that previously posed little threat.
"I was very frustrated because I worked so hard in the summer to get that shot," said Dieng, who missed most of December with a wrist injury. "I started making it at the beginning of the season, then I broke my wrist. I came back and I was missing it, kept missing it.
"Coach (Rick Pitino) told me, 'I know you can make it, don't worry about it. If you miss it, you miss it. If you make it, keep playing. One shot in the game isn't going to change the game.'"
Dieng made Pitino look like a genius Saturday, and he also made things easier for teammates such as Russ Smith. Already a handful for opponents as the league's second-leading scorer with 18.4 points per game, Smith could become an even bigger headache for teams if they have to worry about Dieng's jumper, too.
"It opens up the floor in a way that you really can't describe," said Smith, who had 19 points Saturday. "They have to come out. I can slash and get some easy layups off Gorgui's man."
Dieng is already the anchor of a stingy Louisville defense which has held its last eight opponents to an average of 54.1 points in regulation. The Cardinals continue to be a nightmare for ball-handlers, forcing 18.8 turnovers per game to rank second in the country and averaging 10.7 steals to rank third.
Though this matchup appears to heavily favor Louisville - DePaul (11-16, 2-12) has lost 11 of 12 and has the Big East's second-worst record - the Cardinals could get caught looking ahead to Saturday's showdown with No. 12 Syracuse.
Louisville may have taken the most recent matchup too lightly, entering the game ranked 19th last February but falling behind by 10 at halftime before pulling out a 90-82 overtime win at DePaul.
The Blue Demons grabbed a three-point halftime lead against Connecticut on Saturday but would lose 81-69 after letting the Huskies shoot 70.8 percent from the field in the second half.
DePaul's last six opponents are shooting 55.9 percent, including 48.3 from 3-point ran
The Blue Demons have lost the last nine meetings with Louisville dating to a 60-58 road victory Feb. 25, 2004.
In last season's two matchups, Smith averaged 20.5 points, 5.0 assists and 5.0 steals while Dieng chipped in 10.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game.
DePaul leading scorer Brandon Young (16.5 ppg) scored 27 in the overtime loss.
The Associated Press News Service
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