LOUISVILLE — Edgar Sosa had one of the best games of his Louisville career at Providence on Wednesday night, drilling five threes and scoring 25 points in U of L's runaway victory.
But on Saturday, with the Cards trailing by four at halftime in a slow-down, rough-and-tumble game against St. John's, the senior guard found himself benched in favor of Preston Knowles at the start of the second half due to poor defense and shot selection.
Instead of pouting, Sosa came off the bench and hit three second-half three-pointers that keyed U of L's 75-68 win over the Red Storm.
"I really didn't have a reaction," said Sosa about being benched. "I knew I wasn't playing well. I was talking to Coach (Walter) McCarty, and he told me if this had been two years ago, I would have folded. But it's not about me. It's about the team, and I knew Preston and Jerry (Smith) could get the job done."
Never miss a local story.
"This was a totally different game than Providence," said U of L Coach Rick Pitino. "This was a physical game, and Edgar was playing like it was Providence, where it was up-and-down with not much physicality. I took him out to settle him down and because we needed a lift on the defensive end, and to his credit, he didn't sulk and gave us a big lift in the second half."
St. John's hung tough in the first half and took temporary control near the end of the period. The Red Storm did a good job with Louisville's full-court pressure, turning the ball over just five times, and Dwight Hardy's three at the horn sent St. John's into the break with a 32-28 lead.
With Knowles playing the point in place of Sosa, Louisville scored the first six points of the second half, including back-to-back jumpers by Knowles. The Cards went ahead for good at 44-41 on a Jared Swopshire three with 13:04 remaining.
The game turned completely at the 10-minute mark. With St. John's trailing 48-45, Sean Evans' layup spun out as he was being fouled by Terrence Jennings, and then Evans missed both free throws. Swopshire missed a three, but Kyle Kuric grabbed the rebound and dished out to Sosa for his first field goal, a three that made it 51-45. In two possessions St. John's went from having a chance to tie the game to down six.
Smith led the Cards (12-4) with 16 points, including 12 of 14 free throws. Swopshire added 15 points and seven rebounds, and Samardo Samuels grabbed 11 boards.
But Pitino singled out Kuric, who had eight boards, including five on the offensive end, in 23 minutes off the bench as U of L outrebounded the Red Storm 44-33.
"The key was the offensive glass," Pitino said. "We did a great job on the offensive boards, and that gave us scoring opportunities. Kyle made so many good plays on the backboard, and that kept our emotions going."
The Cardinals have won seven of their last eight games after a 5-3 start, with the only loss a hard-fought 71-62 battle at Kentucky last weekend.
Louisville is 3-0 in Big East play, but those wins came against South Florida, Providence and St. John's.
The next couple of weeks will test the Cards. U of L faces No. 6 Villanova on Monday night at Freedom Hall and will also host Cincinnati and travel to No. 23 Pittsburgh and No. 8 West Virginia before the end of the month.
"We're playing good basketball, and I think we'll be ready for Villanova," Pitino said. "We've had great battles with them over the years, and I think this will be another one."