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 visiting 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 19th-ranked Cardinals (20-5, 8-4 Big East) look to continue their recent dominance over 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, rallying from nine down midway through the second half Saturday at West Virginia for a 77-74 win, their sixth straight. Behanan has grabbed 53 rebounds, including 24 offensive, while averaging 12.5 points over the winning streak.
Louisville certainly has Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's attention.
"They are playing great," Boeheim said after the Orange pulled away late to beat Connecticut 85-67 on Saturday, their fifth consecutive win. "I think they are playing the best in the league right now. It will be a tremendous challenge to go down there on Monday night."
Louisville has had an advantage over Syracuse in recent years, winning the last seven meetings. 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.
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.
But this is one of Boeheim's deepest Syracuse 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.''
Syracuse's zone dares opponents to shoot 3s, and Kyle Kuric has done as good a job as anyone knocking them down. Louisville's senior forward is 9 for 13 beyond the arc against the Orange in the past two meetings, averaging 22.5 points.
Syracuse senior Scoop Jardine, who scored a season-high 21 points against the Huskies, has nearly matched Kuric in the last two contests, scoring 20 in each meeting.