LOUISVILLE — Rick Pitino's Cardinals kept themselves in the thick of things in the Big East race, riding a stingy 2-3 defense and a big performance from sophomore guard Peyton Siva to post a 71-58 win over Connecticut in the KFC Yum Center.
The victory assured the Cards (20-7, 9-5) of no worse than a tie for fourth place in the Big East by the time the weekend games are completed and helped erase the taste of an ugly 63-54 loss at Cincinnati two nights earlier.
The first half looked like a carbon copy of U of L's 79-78 double overtime win at UConn last month. The Huskies had all sorts of problems trying to solve the Cards' 2-3 zone, shooting just 31.8 percent (7-for-22) in the first half. And Siva, who sliced and diced his way to a 19-point, seven-assist performance in Stoors, had 10 first-half points and five steals. UConn couldn't keep him from penetrating into the lane and either flipping in a runner or dishing off to an open teammate.
Siva, generously listed at 5-foot-11, was also able to turn a couple of his steals into highlight-reel dunks, including a one-handed 360-degree slam that gave the Cards a double-digit lead at 24-13.
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UConn, meanwhile, spent most of the first half either passing the ball around the perimeter or turning it over. The Huskies coughed it up 10 times before intermission and had trouble getting star guard Kemba Walker involved. Walker's only field goal in the first 20 minutes came on a 25-foot bank shot with 4:12 remaining, and Louisville was able to maintain a 31-23 halftime advantage
The Huskies came out with a little more pep to start the second half, going on a quick 9-0 run to take a 32-31 lead thanks to a pair of jumpers by Walker and Roscoe Smith, a Niels Giffey three and a follow-up slam by Alex Oriakhi.
But U of L had a counterpunch. Kyle Kuric hit back-to-back threes, and Siva added another to cap a quick 9-0 run that gave the Cards back their eight-point cushion (40-32).
U of L starting forward Terrence Jennings had his hot start (eight points in the game's first eight minutes) negated by foul trouble, but Gorgui Dieng, who missed five games because of a concussion, came through with a double-double, 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Oriakhi's two free throws drew Jennings' fourth foul with 9:36 remaining and brought UConn to within 47-42, but a Rakeem Buckles putback and three-point play again pushed it back to an eight-point game.
The Cards then started attacking the lane again. U of L leading scorer Preston Knowles had an off shooting night (2-for-14), but Siva was able to knife through the UConn defense and wreak havoc. He set up Dieng off a pick-and-roll for a dunk, then stripped Walker on a fast break and fed Chris Smith for a layup to make it 56-44 with 7:32.
Knowles goofed by getting a technical foul near the six-minute mark, and the Huskies got to within nine at 59-50, but Knowles made up for his gaffe with a nice dish to Dieng for a three-point play that put the Cards back up 12.
Walker, coming off a 31-point, seven-rebound, 10-assist performance in a win over Georgetown on Thursday, was held to 16 points on 3-for-11 shooting. Siva finished with a team-high 15 points for U of L.