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Louisville Ready For Big East Rival, Syracuse

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville freshman Chane Behanan takes former Pittsburgh standout DeJuan Blair’s mindset to heart when it comes to rebounding by pretending each loose ball is worth money.

The Cardinals will need Behanan to cash in against Syracuse.

“It’s having heart, just going to get it,” Behanan said. “Treat every rebound like it’s dollar signs. That’s what I started thinking about.”

When the 24th-ranked Cardinals (20-5, 8-4 Big East) host No. 2 Syracuse (25-1, 12-1) on Monday night, the outspoken forward will face his biggest challenge. He will battle the length of the Orange while being expected to make things happen inside.

“He’s just become more serious about the game and more serious about rebounding and playing defense and doing little things besides scoring,” Louisville associate head coach Richard Pitino said. “He’s got a chance to be one of the best rebounders in our league and I think he’s starting to figure that out and he’s taking a lot of pride in it.”

The Cardinals have been surging, too, winning six straight games heading into their biggest home game of the season. Behanan has grabbed 53 rebounds, including 24 on offense, while averaging 12.5 points over the winning streak.

Behanan said he is “understanding the game more fundamentally. Coach always talks about on film getting on the inside of a player, get to the baseline and box him out, ride him up just to get the rebound. That’s one of the fundamentals I’ve learned.”

The Cardinals started the season 12-0 and rose to No. 4 before dropping five of seven to begin league play that sent them tumbling out of the rankings. But even after the fast start, Louisville’s players felt they weren’t together before a players’ only meeting changed their course.

“At the beginning of the year, we were worried more about offense. Everybody was down because nobody was scoring,” point guard Peyton Siva said. “Now that everybody is just locked in on defense and not worried about their shots — shots are going to come, like Coach P (Rick Pitino) says — but everybody’s clamping down on defense and it’s really helping us out.”

Pitino continues to point to practice as the reason Louisville has improved after the Cardinals struggled with injuries early in the season as eight players missed at least one game. Two players are out for the year because of knee injuries — Mike Marra and Rakeem Buckles — and Stephen Van Treese (left knee) is out indefinitely.

“I haven’t seen any difference in our team when they were 12-0, when they were in that brief losing streak they were in, and now. I think everybody looks for reasons why you win and why you lose. I’m a little more pragmatic than that,” coach Rick Pitino said. “I think we’re winning because we’ve time to keep a unit together in practice and execute. I think we’re winning because we’re executing better due to practice.”

Now, the Cardinals will get to measure themselves up with the conference’s elite with history on their side.

Louisville has had an advantage over Syracuse in recent years — winning the last seven meetings in the series. The Cardinals are looking for their first victory over a team ranked as highly as the Orange since beating them twice in the 2009-10 season when they were ranked No. 2 and later No. 1.

But this is one of Jim Boeheim’s deepest Syracuse’s teams. The Orange have seven players scoring seven points or more while continuing their trademark 2-3 matchup zone, a look that Louisville has used at times this year.

When “every guy in your lineup is over 6-2, it’s very tough to penetrate that zone, and they do a very good job of that. We’ve got to attack it the right way and be smart with what we’re doing,” Richard Pitino said. “The one thing about them that’s so important to them is they’ve got to get steals and they’ve got to get out on the break. So it’s important for us to take care of the basketball and really value the basketball — take good shots and keep them out of transition.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.