LOUISVILLE — Louisville Coach Rick Pitino grew so annoyed about being asked who his team's go-to player was early in the season he put a moratorium on the question.
Turns out the answer isn't senior captain Preston Knowles, sophomore Peyton Siva or junior Kyle Kuric, it's all of the above.
The 15th-ranked Cardinals (17-5, 6-3 Big East) are a surprise contender in the nation's toughest conference thanks to a series of last-second victories that haven't been for the faint of heart. There's the 18-point comeback in the final 6 minutes against Marquette, the 11-point rally against West Virginia, the double-overtime win at No. 6 Connecticut last week.
Louisville is 3-1 in games decided by three points or less this year. Not bad for a team without the kind of go-to player that has been a staple of the program since Pitino arrived, a legacy that stretched from Francisco Garcia to Terrence Williams to — for better or worse — Edgar Sosa.
Pitino isn't complaining and doesn't think the Cardinals are lucky. He's not quite sure they're good, either.
"We've shown a lot of heart, a lot of courage," Pitino said. "But you can't keep doing that, sooner or later ... your luck runs out."
It did in the final seconds against Georgetown on Monday, where another second-half surge fell short in an 62-59 loss. Still, Louisville remains in the thick of the Big East race heading into Saturday's game against reeling DePaul (6-15, 0-9). The Cardinals, however, aren't expecting a breather even though they're facing a team riding a 22-game conference losing streak.
Louisville will be without leading scorer Knowles, who tweaked a hamstring injury against the Hoyas. He'll join starters Rakeem Buckles (finger) and Gorgui Dieng (concussion) on the bench.
"We're very concerned with what we're putting on the floor to compete tomorrow," Pitino said. "We're foul trouble away from getting beat."
Injuries, however, are nothing new. The Cardinals have won despite playing with just one healthy power forward most of the season and using a three-guard lineup that leaves them at a distinct size disadvantage most nights.
Yet it hasn't stopped Louisville, picked to finish eighth in the conference, from being one of the most pleasant surprises in the country.
Kuric, who threw in the game-winning layup against Marquette with 4 seconds remaining, said the team's lack of stars is precisely the reason it doesn't panic in close games. Rather than throw it to one player and let him try to be the hero, every guy on the floor plays a role in late-game situations.
"We're not focused on" who takes the shot, Kuric said. "It's just a whole team aspect."
1986 NCAA champsto be saluted Feb. 12
Louisville will recognize the silver anniversary of its 1986 NCAA basketball championship team at halftime of the Cardinals' game against Syracuse on Feb. 12.
The Cards will wear retro uniforms for the game in the style worn by the 1986 team. Fans in attendance will receive a commemorative poster. Before the game, members of the 1985-86 team will be available for autographs.