Junior guard Russ Smith made sure the Louisville Cardinals avoided their longest losing streak in nine years, as Louisville held off a physical Pittsburgh Panthers team for a 64-61 win on Monday night.
Smith, the Cardinals' leading scorer, got 13 of his 20 points in the first half, but it took all 40 minutes for Louisville to put the Panthers away. The two teams traded baskets in the second half, with junior center Gorgui Dieng hitting two big free throws with 12 seconds left to give the Cardinals the win. The defeat ended the Panthers' four-game winning streak.
Louisville was the top-ranked team in the country earlier this season, and enjoyed one win at the top. Following a victory over the Connecticut Huskies on Jan. 14, Louisville lost the following three games. The last time Louisville lost four straight games was Feb. 12-25, 2004. The team hasn't lost four consecutive Big East games since they joined the conference.
The Cardinals started out the game a bit sloppy, building a 12-point lead that the Panthers slowly whittled down to just six points by the half. Louisville shot 41 percent during the opening frame. Pittsburgh made another late run with a minute left in the game, but struggled to make free throws down the stretch, ending the game just 3-of-12 from the free throw line.
Pittsburgh was able to hold senior guard Peyton Siva, the Cardinals' second leading scorer, to just two points on 1-for-7 shooting. Siva started dishing the ball to the rest of the team instead, gathering 10 assists for the game. Dieng finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks.