LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – David Padgett wanted better defense from his University of Louisville basketball team after three consecutive losses, two of them at home.

At halftime of Thursday night’s game against Georgia Tech at the KFC Yum! Center, he looked at the scoreboard and saw the number “16” under the opponent’s name. It’s the kind of defensive emphasis he wanted to see, and it’s the kind the Cardinals are going to have to replicate if they want anything like the results in their 77-54 win over the Yellowjackets.

The Cards played without leading scorer Deng Adel, who missed the game to help rest an ankle he injured on a late dunk attempt against Syracuse. Into his place, Padgett inserted freshman Darius Perry into the starting lineup, as well as going with Anas Mahmoud in place of Malik Williams.

Perry’s presence helped give the Cards more ball pressure in the backcourt, and Mahmoud gave them more length and experience in a return to the zone defense, something they haven’t played as much lately.

The result frustrated Georgia Tech, which ranks 14th in the 15-team Atlantic Coast Conference anyway. And Louisville, which is trending toward its worst defensive efficiency rating since 2010, benefited from a more defensive focus.

“We played a lot more zone,” Padgett said. “We haven't played zone hardly at all the last couple of games. We did a good job of talking and communicating, and that is why I made the switch with Anas and Ray in the starting lineup because Darius was out there. Malik had not done anything wrong, Malik has been getting better every single game, he has been playing well. I just wanted to make sure we had four veterans around Darius when I knew we were going to be playing a lot of zone. We did a good job of talking, communicating, and keeping the ball out of the lane."

Despite playing zone, the Cards grabbed 15 steals and held a 21-3 edge in points off turnovers. Georgia Tech had only six field goals in the first half (in 26 attempts) and 10 turnovers.

It was a good night for Louisville’s freshmen.

Perry’s quickness gives U of L a different defensive dimension. Going into the game, Padgett told the freshman just to worry about his defense and distributing the ball.

“His quickness, he bothers people, he wears people out, he gets them sped up out of their comfort zone which is what I have expected out of him all year,” Padgett said. “Obviously, we do not want Deng to be out because of injury, but Darius did very good job of stepping into that void. I thought our whole bench came in and did a great job. Ryan (McMahon) and Jordan (Nwora) came in the first half and did some really good things, Malik obviously came in played well, Dwayne (Sutton) gave us a boost there in the second half, so, very good team win."

Offensively, the Cards got a lift from Nwora, who had 16 points – and made 5 of 7 three-pointers – in 21 minutes off the bench. He also had a career-high four steals. Williams came off the bench to add 11 points on 3-4 shooting from beyond the arc. As a team, the Cardinals made 12 of 20 threes (60 percent).

Louisville also got 12 points and seven rebounds from Mahmoud and 11 points and four rebounds from Ray Spalding. McMahon, who blocked two shots, finished with six points, hitting a couple of threes.

“Yeah, he's turning into Anas, he's blocking shots now,” Padgett said of McMahon. “He understands it well because it's his third year in the program. He was engaged and active tonight, not that he hadn't been, but it's amazing when you come into the game and get a couple deflections, get a couple steals, now all of a sudden your shot starts to fall. He came in and gave us a big boost on the defensive end. That's what I love about this team, Deng goes down, next guy up. Between Darius, Jordan, and Ryan they really filled that void well."

Now the challenge is to keep it going. The Cards travel to Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon to face a team they beat by 26 points back on Jan. 7.

“Our guys understand the importance of every game right now, especially after letting a couple get away from us at home,” Padgett said. “Every single game is of the utmost magnitude, it doesn't matter who you're playing and going on the road is even more difficult. Our guys will be locked in and we'll make sure everyone is ready to go from a mental and physical standpoint."

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