No. 15 Louisville 61, DePaul 57
Louisville's leading scorer was in street clothes. It's leading rebounder and top shot-blocker, too.
Big deal. The 15th-ranked Cardinals have gotten used to patchwork lineups by now. It hasn't stopped them from finding ways to win.
Kyle Kuric scored 19 points, including the game-clinching 3-pointer with just over 2 minutes remaining as Louisville remained in the thick of the Big East race with a 61-57 win over DePaul on Saturday night.
''It wasn't fun out there,'' said Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
It wasn't pretty, either, though you won't hear the Cardinals (18-5, 7-3 Big East) complaining. They bounced back from a tough loss at No. 13 Georgetown on Monday despite playing without senior captain Preston Knowles, who tweaked a hamstring in the defeat and sat on the bench along with injured power forwards Rakeem Buckles and Jared Swopshire.
Freshman center Gorgui Dieng didn't even make it out on the floor. He watched from the locker room because the noise inside the KFC Yum! Center could hinder his recovery from a concussion.
Still, Louisville survived behind some selfless play and just enough defense.
''Someone has to step up every game,'' Kuric said. ''We can't let that affect us. We gutted it out. When we had to come down and get a rebound or get a stop, we did that.''
Chris Smith and Terrence Jennings added 10 points each for the Cardinals and sophomore point guard Peyton Siva shook off a nightmarish performance from the field and back spasms to add six points - all on free throws - and tie a career high with 10 assists.
''With everybody hurt, we showed character and a lot of heart,'' Siva said.
Brandon Young led the Blue Demons (6-16, 0-10) with 15 points and Cleveland Melvin added 12, but DePaul lost its 23rd straight game to a Big East opponent.
''Our guys played hard and tough and we deserved a little better,'' said DePaul coach Oliver Purnell. ''It didn't seem like we got any breaks down the stretch.''
The Blue Demons had their chances to end the ignominious streak, leading by as much as nine in the first half and five in the second. Yet DePaul struggled when the Cardinals turned up the defensive pressure and looked lost in crunch time.
Jimmy Drew hit a 3-pointer to pull DePaul to 60-57 with 1:24 to go and the Blue Demons got a stop when Jennings turned it over.
Young missed a 3-point attempt from the top of the key on DePaul's next possession. Jennings grabbed the rebound and was fouled, but clanked his first free throw.
DePaul took over for one last chance, but Drew tried to throw the ball off Siva as he lost his balance. Siva moved just enough to avoid the ball then fell on the floor and grabbed it. He sank the first free throw to provide the final margin.
Not bad for a player who missed all eight of his field goals and took a particularly nasty tumble midway through the second half that briefly sent him to the bench. Siva said he couldn't feel his left leg for a few moments, still he was back on the court seconds later as Louisville lurched ahead.
''I turned to (trainer) Fred (Hina) and he said, 'I'll have him back in a minute,' and I told him 'make it 30 seconds,''' Pitino said.
Siva wasn't the only Cardinal to end up motionless on the floor. Smith took an elbow from Jennings while they battled for a loose ball and sustained a cut over his right eye. Smith said the trainers put it back together with ''glue.''
Knowles had been the glue holding the Cardinals together, but they survived without him for a night. Louisville compensated for his absence by taking its time offensively and looking for open shots. The Cardinals finished with 17 assists on 21 baskets.
Pitino called the game ''dangerous'' for the Cardinals because Knowles' injury forced him to experiment with his lineup.
At times, the experiments fizzled. The Cardinals turned it over three times in the opening 2 minutes, and in an effort to give Siva a breather before a media timeout, Pitino played freshman walk-on Tim Henderson and freshman Russ Smith at the same time.
The scattershot approach hurt Louisville on defense, as the Blue Demons rode some uncharacteristically hot shooting to a nine-point lead. DePaul, which entered the game averaging four 3-pointers a game, knocked down five in the first half alone.
Yet the Cardinals collected themselves enough to end the half with an 11-2 burst to tie the game at 34. DePaul moved back in front 43-38 early in the second half but the Cardinals dialed up the intensity.
DePaul made just one field goal over a six-minute stretch that allowed Louisville to edge back in front for good.
''We're hanging on,'' Pitino said. ''We're doing the best we can but it's very, very difficult.''