LOUISVILLE – Rikki (Ricky) don’t lose that number.
That 1974 hit by Steeley Dan is music to the ears of Louisville Cardinals fans as Coach Rick Pitino and the Cardinals won their seventh consecutive game on Saturday over the Syracuse Orangemen, 73-69 at the Yum Center.
In a game expected to be down to the wire between the nations No.s 15 and 13th ranked teams, both squads blew big leads leading to the final margin.
“It’s really a fun thing coaching this team,” Pitino said. “Their heart and guts are unmatched. “And now that we’ve got everyone healthy, maybe we can get back to normal.”
Where Louisville (19-6, 8-4 Big East) has made amazing comebacks seem normal at times this season, this time they were on the watching end.
Leading 57-37 and then 64-46 with 11:38 left, Syracuse (20-6, 7-6) pulled to within 69-66 on a basket by Brandon Triche with 1:38 left.
After free throws by Chris Smith built the lead to five, Triche’s 3-point attempt rimmed out. Kris Joseph of Syracuse grabbed the rebound underneath the basket, but was tied up by Terrence Jennings with the jump ball going to the Cardinals.
Peyton Siva then hit one of two free throws to put the lead back to six before Scoop Jardine then hit his fourth trey of the night to make it a one possession game with 06.5 showing on the clock. Again, Siva was sent to the line where he knocked down one of two for the final margin.
“Ball movement was the key, Pitino said. “Our press got us the pace we wanted, then we milked the clock too much allowing them to get back in the game. When you have a big lead, you tend to break down on defense”
“We learned from the Notre Dame game,” Siva said. “We lost a tough one (89-79) in overtime.”
Syracuse put together a 9-2 run to go up 26-19. Jennings then scored six consecutive points as Louisville ended the half with a 21-4 run that included an NBA length 3-pointer by Preston Knowles right before the buzzer for a 40-30 lead.
“We had ball movement, player movement and did a great job of going inside out- but had no dribble penetration,” Pitino added in explaining the Syracuse comeback.
Kyle Kuric led Louisville with a game high 23 points including 5-of-7 from 3-point range. Knowles added 22 points with 7-of-12 from behind the arc. Jennings finished with 13 points.
Louisville also had 20 assists (led by Siva with six) on 26 field goals.
“Kyle runs the triangle great,” Pitino said. “Especially going to the left corner. We call that ‘Kyle’s Corner’. Then you have Preston, and with Peyton running the offense and looking to pass. Preston is a great leader and like most college seniors he doesn’t want college to end.
“This team is not as talented as our top ranked team or our Final Four team, but maybe along with my ’87 team at Providence this team has more heart than any of them. And what’s also important, there are no egos.”
“No one is focusing on leaving early or the NBA,” Siva said. “We’re humble.”
“It’s not me,” Kuric said as he has now scored 20 plus points in back to back games and for the fourth time this season. “It’s the guards penetrating and getting everyone shots.”
Triche led Syracuse with 21 points. Jardine added 20 and C.J.Fair scored 11 points.
Louisville will take to the road Wednesday when they will face Cincinnati.
“I’m super excited to be where we are at this point in the Big East,” said Pitino. “For the fans, this has to be the most fun team in the ten years that I’ve been here.”
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