LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Freshman Chane Behanan is certainly confident. That’s why he had no problem telling a few of the Rutgers players in pregame that they were too small to block him out.
Turns out, they had no chance of stopping him on offense, either.
Behanan hit his first 10 shots on the way to a career-high 23 points to go with 11 rebounds and Louisville beat Rutgers 78-66 on Saturday for its fourth straight Big East victory.
“He was a monster,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. “He made so many simple plays with his effort and just with his efficiency. He had quite a game.”
Against Rutgers, Behanan had eight offensive rebounds and finished 11 of 12 from the field, only missing a 3-point attempt in the corner near the midway point of the second half as Louisville (18-5, 6-4) has put its 2-4 start to league play firmly in its past.
“I ain’t going to lie, before the game, I kind of told a couple of players that they were too little,” Behanan said. “It seemed like every rebound was just coming my way. My pregame meal is always going to be lasagna.”
But the Cardinals have bigger concerns than food options on Monday. Louisville may be without center Gorgui Dieng against Connecticut because of a sprained right ankle.
“It’s not a high ankle sprain, so he’ll take off tomorrow, we’ll rest him (but) I would say he’s doubtful if I had to guess,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who projected freshman Zach Price would start if Dieng isn’t available.
Rutgers (12-12, 4-7) only led once by a point early and frustration mounted late in the first half when Rice was ejected for arguing with officials.
“I vehemently disagreed with a couple of calls and got carried away,” the coach said. “You always regret when you act like an idiot. It’s just human nature.”
Rice folded his arms across his chest to avoid making contact with the officials while screaming his case, then made a choke sign at referee Evon Burroughs as he walked toward the Scarlet Knights’ locker room. It was the first ejection of Rice’s two-year tenure.
“I was clearing something from my throat,” Rice said of the gesture.
Still, the Scarlet Knights only trailed 53-50 midway through the second before Louisville used a 12-0 run to put the game away.
Kyle Kuric scored 14 points, Russ Smith added 11 of his 12 points in the first half and Peyton Siva had 10 for Louisville, while Chris Smith added a career-high 13 rebounds.
Freshman Eli Carter led Rutgers with 24 points.
Louisville, which has lost eight players for at least one game due to injury, may be without Dieng, whose ankle was heavily iced in the locker room.
“It’s not about me. If it depends on me, I’m ready to play,” said Dieng, who is confident he’ll be available against the Huskies. “It’s pretty hurt, but I care more about winning.”
Dieng fell to the court with just under 15 minutes to play, clutching his right knee. Dieng went to the bench where Cardinals trainer Fred Hina re-wrapped Dieng’s right ankle.
“He does that about twice every day in practice,” Chris Smith joked. “Everybody thinks he’s soft, but he’s not.”
Dieng hobbled into the concourse, but when he came back to the floor he immediately checked into the game at the 12:21 mark shortly after Carter hit a 3-pointer to cut Louisville’s lead to 53-50.
The Cardinals answered.
Behanan dunked over Gilvydas Biruta, Siva converted a three-point play, Behanan had a putback, Siva drove hard for a layup and Kuric hit a 3-pointer in the left corner that made it 65-50 with 8:20 left.
“He’s added some new dimensions to his game,” Pitino said of Behanan. “He was just the strongest guy on the team, so he relied on his athleticism. Now he’s doing things fundamentally.”
Myles Mack’s 3-pointer with 1:18 left cut Louisville’s lead to 73-64, but Chris Smith hit two free throws and the Scarlet Knights never got closer.
Louisville has won six straight in the series and improved to 30-6 in February since 2007.
Rutgers, which plays five of seven on the road this month, led 12-11 early in the half before Louisville used a 10-0 run to take a 21-12 lead. With Rutgers trailing 36-30 with 2½ minutes remaining in the first half, Rice was ejected after he was upset a foul wasn’t called on the prior possession.
Associate head coach David Cox took over, and the Scarlet Knights trailed 41-36 at halftime. But Rutgers never found a way to stop Behanan in the second half, either.
“He was just a man among boys,” Cox said. “I tried to warn guys about him and his physicality, about how he can get deep post position, but he just did what he had to do today.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.