LOUISVILLE — Something hasn't been right with the Louisville basketball team ever since blowing a 20-point halftime lead and squeaking by West Virginia on Jan. 31.
In the past two weeks, the Cards were stomped by No. 1 UConn, had a raggedy performance in an ugly win at St. John's and were humiliated in a head-scratching 33-point loss to a Notre Dame team that had lost seven games in a row.
A visit from Big East cellar-dwellar DePaul couldn't have been timed better. The Blue Demons, who were 0-12 in conference play, came in and took a 99-54 pounding. The only drama came in the final seconds, when Louisville dribbled out the clock instead of going for the century mark, much to the dismay of the Freedom Hall faithful.
Afterward, both U of L Coach Rick Pitino and the Cardinal players said they put the Notre Dame fiasco in the rear-view mirror and pointed to the Irish's sense of urgency and the Cards' lack thereof as a reason for the blowout. Pitino added that his team had had its best practice of the year the day before the DePaul game.
"You may think I went after them and peeled paint off the wall, screaming and yelling, but I really didn't," Pitino said. I want to kill myself if we lose by 1, 5, 10, 15 or 20. But I'll allow myself to get killed until the next morning, then it's time to move on and get to the next game."
Another good sign was the Cardinal locker room after the game. Terrence Williams and Edgar Sosa were cracking jokes on each other, and Terrence Jennings and Jerry Smith stood in the background making faces at teammates, trying to get them to crack as they did interviews in front of television cameras.
"I was embarrassed" after the Notre Dame game, Sosa said. "I ignored a lot of phone calls. But when teams lose like that, a lot of times they hang their heads. Coach was proud that we forgot about it and played a great game."
Louisville jumped out to a 13-0 lead even with star forward Williams on the bench to start the game. Pitino said he sat Williams to allow him to rest a bothersome right wrist.
Williams ended up playing only six minutes in the first half after picking up his third foul and went scoreless for the game without a shot attempt. In actuality, though Williams could have spent the entire game on the bench in a dress shirt and khakis and U of L still would have rolled. Louisville led 51-21 at halftime.
The Cardinals, who had shot under 40 percent their last three games, were a sizzling 59 percent against the Blue Demons, including a season-high 18-of-36 from three-point land.
Sophomore guard Preston Knowles showed off some of the scoring prowess that made him an all-stater at Clark County, hitting 5 of 7 from behind the arc en route to a game-high 19 points in just 13 minutes.
"If I played Preston a little more he could have matched (Kentucky guard Jodie)Meeks," Pitino joked. "He can get his shot off quick, elevates well, and has great confidence. He's a good offensive player and good basketball player, period."
Earl Clark, who had averaged just eight points on 32 percent shooting over his last four games, broke out with a near triple-double (12 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists). And Reginald Delk, who replaced Williams in the starting lineup, added 10 points on a perfect 4-for-4 from the field.
DePaul was led by sophomore Dar Tucker's 17 points. Tucker got an ovation from the Freedom Hall crowd after an impressive alley-oop windmill dunk late in the second half.
Louisville improved to 19-5 overall and moved into a three-way tie for second place in the Big East at 10-2. We'll get a better indication of where the Cards really are in the next two weeks when they host Providence, and travel to Cincinnati and Georgetown before returning to Freedom Hall for a showdown with Marquette.
"The Notre Dame game was tough, but we had to just kind of forget about it, just like we have to forget about the DePaul game," Sosa said. "Every game from here on out will be a battle because the Big East title is on the line."