LOUISVILLE — As Louisville maintains its tough defensive reputation, the fourth-ranked Cardinals are building a nice offensive game as well.
Wednesday's Big East Conference opener against Providence was a perfect example.
Russ Smith came off the bench to score 23 points and Louisville shot 63 percent in the second half to run away from Providence 80-62. The Cardinals finished at 53 percent from the field (30-for-57), the fourth time this season they have shot at least 50 percent and the fourth straight game they have converted at least 48 percent of their attempts.
Making this performance more satisfying for Louisville was doing it against Providence, which routed the Cardinals by 31 points last Jan. 10 in Rhode Island.
"We're continuing to win with offense," Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said. "Once our defense catches up with our offense, we have a chance to be a special team."
The Cardinals were pretty stout defending the Friars, scoring 27 points off 16 turnovers. Louisville had 10 steals, compared to just one for Providence.
The payoff was putting five Cards in double-figure scoring. Center Gorgui Dieng posted his 14th career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, adding four blocks.
Forward Luke Hancock also had 11 points along with a career-high eight rebounds. Chane Behanan shook off the flu to score 10 points as did senior guard Peyton Siva, who contributed eight assists as the Cardinals (13-1, 1-0) won their eighth straight.
Louisville's complete effort made a believer of Providence Coach Ed Cooley.
"I think our team just played the best team in the country," Cooley said. "I've scouted every game that they have played this year and they have a lot of different answers, a lot of experience.
"They play at a great pace. They use their depth. It seems like their players know their roles. They were fun to watch, even to scout."
Louisville, coming off Saturday's 80-77 victory over archrival Kentucky, didn't let down against Providence. Motivated by last season's road loss to the Friars, U of L responded by handing them their worst defeat of the season.
After hitting 15 of 33 shots for a 37-31 halftime lead, Louisville broke the game open by hitting 15 of 24 in the final 20 minutes. The Cardinals had 22 assists.
Kadeem Batts had 17 points to lead Providence (8-5, 0-1), which shot 46 percent in falling to 0-7 all-time in Louisville.
"We put it behind us, especially after the Final Four run," Behanan said of Providence's rout last season. "But once this season started and we got close to Big East play, (Pitino) started to bring it up and he kept saying that we didn't want to make the same mistakes, especially at home."
Providence guard Bryce Cotton was a game-time decision because of a sore knee that sidelined him from Friday's loss to Brown. But the Big East's leading scorer (22.0 points per game) started and had 11 points in the first half.
Behanan was considered doubtful for Louisville with the flu but started, though he seemed less energetic than usual.