LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville coach Rick Pitino laughed while pondering what it would take for Russ Smith to play the way the coach wants him to on offense.
"I don't know if that's possible. I really mean it," Pitino said. "All I want Russ to do is play defense hard. Everything else, you've got to let him go."
Smith scored 25 points, Chris Smith added 20 and No. 14 Louisville got back on the right track with a 76-59 victory over DePaul on Saturday despite not having leading scorer Kyle Kuric.
"Our offense was Russ Smith in the middle of a playground in Queens and four guys," Pitino said.
Russ Smith finished 0 for 7 from 3-point range but was much better inside the arc, where he hit 10 of his 15 attempts.
"If you're open, you can't draw up a better play than getting open," Smith said. "No matter how much you miss, you've just got to shoot it, you're open. So if I'm open, I just have to fire it."
The Cardinals (14-4, 2-3 Big East) had lost four of their previous five games, but avoided their first three-game home losing streak in 11 years by jumping out to an early lead against the Blue Demons and thwarting a late rally.
Kuric, averaging 13 points, sustained a high left ankle sprain in practice earlier this week after the Cardinals had already lost to Providence by 31 points. But Louisville capitalized from the start and used an early 11-0 run to seize control against DePaul.
"Our goal is to win every home game and get two road games. That's our goal. It's not going to be easy," Pitino said. "It's going to be a tough task, but we've answered the bell every season."
Brandon Young scored 14 points for the Blue Demons (10-7, 1-4), who cut the lead to five points with just under 7 minutes to play but never got closer.
Louisville has won eight straight in the series and 20 of the last 22. Gorgui Dieng, who hurt his neck in individual workouts on Friday, added 13 points and 14 rebounds for the Cardinals, who shot 50.9 percent from the field after averaging 39.4 percent over their previous five games.
"I'm going to play every single game. I want to play every single game," said Dieng, who was wearing a neck brace afterward. "It's not about me, it's about team."
Louisville led by nine at halftime and pushed it to 54-50 with 9:44 left when Russ Smith broke out and hit a reverse layup in transition before DePaul would answer.
Worrel Clahar hit 3-pointers in consecutive trips, Moses Morgan added another and freshman Derrell Robertson Jr. scored down low to cut it to 56-51.
"That was big for us. That gave us a lift. We tried to get up in our press and force some turnovers so we could try and get some easy steals in the transition instead of scrambling back on defense," Clahar said. "But, we couldn't hold off in the end."
Louisville responded with a 7-0 spurt that included a short jumper from Rakeem Buckles, a 3-pointer by Chris Smith in the corner and a steal and slam by Peyton Siva that made it 65-53 with 4:35 left.
Young hit two more 3s, DePaul's ninth and 10th of the game, but the Blue Demons never got within striking distance in the closing minutes.
"If you live by the three you're going to die by the three," Clahar said. "It comes and goes."
DePaul's leading scorer, Cleveland Melvin, finished with eight points, 10.6 less than his season average, and committed six turnovers. The Blue Demons have lost 66 of their last 71 Big East games.
The Cardinals got off to the fast start they desperately needed after a 90-59 loss at Providence on Tuesday night. Louisville used an 11-0 run to take an 18-5 lead just over 6 minutes in.
Louisville's Kevin Ware crashed the boards and put back a miss from Chris Smith that made it 27-13, and when DePaul tried to run, the Cardinals' defense was ready. Dieng successfully defended a 2-on-1 break by forcing a pass and still blocking Morgan's shot. Ware stopped another break when he forced Young into an awkward layup attempt, then blocked a shot on the next possession that led to a shot clock violation.
In another sequence, Krys Faber grabbed a rebound then threw an outlet pass to Melvin that hit the back of Melvin's head. Russ Smith collected the loose ball, scored and was fouled, converting the three-point play to make it 34-20. The Cardinals would lead by as many as 16 before DePaul made it interesting.
"I thought the area where we really let down was our transition defense," DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. "Louisville made a conscious effort to attack early and we weren't doing a real good job with that."