LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Rick Pitino was noticeably hoarse in acknowledging his 300th victory with Louisville on Monday night, no doubt caused by all his yelling at the eighth-ranked Cardinals to carry out the cornerstone defensive strategy that has made him successful.
Judging from Louisville's second-nature execution in a 67-51 defeat of Cincinnati, Pitino probably could have saved his voice. The Cardinals forced the Bearcats into a season-high 21 turnovers, several coming during a 25-7 run over a 10:03 stretch in the second half.
A game once tied at 37 was soon a 62-44 Louisville lead that culminated in the Cardinals' sixth straight win and a postgame video tribute to Pitino.
``The biggest question I got tonight from the media was coming off such an emotional game, could you be on top of it?' said Pitino, referring to the carryover from Saturday's 58-53 victory at Syracuse. ``I said, `Without question.' It's been the M.O. of this team all year. They haven't let down one time. We've lost, but we've brought it every game. That was a very good defensive performance.'
Louisville (25-5, 13-4 Big East) drew within one-half game of first-place Georgetown, which plays at Villanova on Wednesday. Besides forcing turnovers, the Cardinals held Cincinnati to 7-of-24 shooting (29 percent) in the second half and 18 of 51 overall (35 percent).
Missing all seven 3-point attempts after hitting 6 of 14 in the first half was also frustrating for the Bearcats, though not as much as their errors.
``We had no chance to win because we turned the ball over 21 times,' said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, a Cardinals assistant in 2002 and 2003.
Louisville converted Cincinnati's mistakes into 23 points, keying an offensive effort in which the Cardinals outscored the Bearcats 42-16 in the paint.
Russ Smith scored 18 points and Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng added 11 each for Louisville, which shot 48 percent (28 of 58) including 13 of 24 in the second half.
``Everybody's playing great right now,' Siva said. ``This is like Louisville every year. Coach P gets us going like this every year. All that hard work is finally paying off.'
Cashmere Wright scored 15 points and Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuan Parker had 12 each for the Bearcats, who lost for the sixth time in eight games. Cincinnati lost their second straight to Louisville, which beat the Bearcats in last year's Big East tournament's championship game en route to a Final Four berth.
That defense defined the game was no surprise for these Big East rivals separated by about 100 miles.
Despite their recent slump, the Bearcats still rank in the top 30 in field goal defense (18th, 38.5 percent) and scoring (28th, 59.2 per game).
Louisville remained one of the top defensive teams, ranking third in steals per game (10.7) and turnover margin (plus-6). The Cardinals were coming off Saturday's 58-53 win over No. 12 Syracuse, where both teams shot 36 percent; Louisville won it by outscoring Syracuse's bench 22-15, hitting a couple more 3-pointers and taking 12 more free throws.
That victory moved Louisville up two spots in the latest poll, and the Cardinals' objective was using familiar home surroundings to boost their offense.
Their plan worked for the most part in the first half, as the Cardinals shot a respectable 44 percent (15 of 34) and outscored the Bearcats 22-8 in the paint. Louisville moved the ball around well and it helped Siva bounce back from a scoreless game at Syracuse, as he scored all of his points on five field goals including a 3-pointer.
Louisville's defense was key, scoring 12 points off 12 turnovers while holding Cincinnati to 11-of-27 shooting (41 percent). The Bearcats' 3-point shooting helped them stay close and trail just 35-31 at halftime.
A 13-9 run over the final 7:12 of the half provided Louisville's cushion, but that disappeared early in the second half as the Cardinals went nearly 5 minutes without a field goal. Cincinnati rallied to tie the game at 37 by the first media timeout.
Louisville followed with a 9-1 run that eventually became a 60-44 lead. Everybody contributed, with the bench outscoring Cincinnati's reserves 19-6.
As Pitino added another achievement to go along with his 650th career victory earned earlier this season at South Florida, he took satisfaction in this one because the Cardinals are playing the way they need to at this point in the season.
``All the parts are coming together, and it is what we hoped,' Pitino said. ``I like our team right now.'
The Associated Press News Service
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