No. 19 Louisville hosts surging South Florida

Senior Kyle Kuric sees it every year at Louisville. Come

February, the Cardinals go from fair to fabulous.

Kuric has been a part of a group that’s won 21 of 29 games in

the shortest month of the year, which bodes well when No. 19

Louisville (22-7, 10-6 Big East) hosts South Florida on Wednesday

night.

”We’re a very well-conditioned team, so it helps us out.

Everything starts clicking,” Kuric said. ”The freshmen start

understanding, not thinking out there like, `That was my rotation,

my fault. They’re there and now it’s good rotation, good job and

play.’ Now everything is starting to come together, everybody’s

starting to play well together and that’s just this time of

year.”

Kuric said coach Rick Pitino’s practices also help as the season

wanes.

”There’s a lot of running, it’s a very intense practice, but

until you see it and you’re actually involved in it every day, you

really don’t understand how difficult and demanding it can be,”

said Kuric, who leads the Cardinals averaging 13.1 points per game.

”Every day you’re kind of sore, you’re a little tired. It’s just

the normal day-to-day events around here.”

Winning has been for Louisville, too, which is well on its way

to its sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance. South Florida

would like to join the Cardinals there.

The Bulls (18-11, 11-5) are playing much better since a 30-point

loss at Georgetown, winning five of their last six to become the

latest Big East team on the NCAA tournament bubble. They’ve also

won ugly by failing to score more than 65 points in any of their

last seven games and winning 46-45 against Cincinnati on

Sunday.

Pitino said that’s typical of the style of play this time of

year in the Big East after Louisville had its own grinding game

with a 57-54 win over Pittsburgh on Sunday in which the Panthers

knew the plays the Cardinals planned to run before they were even

called.

”It’s that time of year in league play where everybody knows

the other team’s offense, so you’ve got to figure out now how can

you push it up?” Pitino said. ”We pressed Pittsburgh, we did a

very good job, we got a lot of offense off it, but even when we

pressed them, they didn’t attack the basket.”

At least Louisville can rely on its defense.

The Cardinals are allowing opponents to shoot 37.6 percent from

the field, the third lowest mark in the country, and have averaged

9.3 steals per game. Pitino said he expects more from center Gorgui

Dieng, too, after a lackluster performance against the

Panthers.

”I was really disappointed in him after the game because he

didn’t block enough shots, he didn’t; there was so many

opportunities for him to do things he didn’t do and he said,

`Coach, I’m exhausted, my legs have given out,”’ said Pitino, who

gave Dieng Monday off from practice and was planning to lighten his

load on Tuesday. ”He’s played probably too many minutes in

practice and in the games. He’s sort of hit that wall.”

Louisville will honor its three seniors – Kuric, Chris Smith and

Jared Swopshire – at Wednesday’s game. Kuric and Smith both joined

the Cardinals as walk-ons and Swopshire will graduate and transfer

after the season ends with a year of eligibility remaining after

missing all of 2010-11 with a groin injury.

Smith laughed again about the often-told story that Pitino

initially thought he was a ball boy when he transferred from

Manhattan, but has turned into a starter that’s averaging 10.2

points per game as a second perimeter shooter after Kuric. He said

as the Cardinals exit their favorite month, their biggest splash

could come in March after a pair of one-and-done tournament

appearances the last two seasons.

”Right now I feel like we’re playing great defense and nobody’s

hurt right now, knock on wood,” Smith said. ”The sky’s the limit

for this basketball team right now. Any given night, I feel, we can

have our breakout night offensively. As long as we start pushing

the ball, I feel a lot of teams are going to have trouble with

us.”