The Cardinals topped Northern Kentucky University 83-66 in front of 18,869 fans Sunday - on Halloween - in UofL's first exhibition game of the 2010-11 season.
"It was a good first game for us," Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said. "We got exactly what we wanted from the first half, then we broke down from a conditioning standpoint (in the second half)."
Sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, while freshman center Gorgui Dieng - who was recently cleared to play by the NCAA - tallied 14 points and 11 rebounds in his first public appearance in the red and white.
"I was surprised, not by the physical things, but by the mental things," Pitino said of the 6-foot-10 Dieng. "He's much smarter than the rest of our guys from an IQ standpoint...he picked things up like he's been practicing for six weeks.
"Some day that young man is going to be a big-time basketball player, but it's going to take some time."
Senior guard Preston Knowles added 11 points for the Cards, who shot 48.4 percent and dominated the backboards - 55-26.
UofL ran out to a 14-4 lead behind Buckles, who scored eight of the team's first 11 points on a layup, a three-pointer and a three-point play.
"I just came out and played hard," said Buckles, who was 6 of 11 from the field, including 1 of 5 from three-point range, and hit all five of his foul shots.
Dieng got a round of applause when he entered the game at the 17:01 mark and made his presence known early by knocking down a three-pointer two minutes later.
"When he shot that one you saw Coach P shake his head, but it was one of those shots where you say, ‘no,' (then) ‘Yes!'" sophomore guard Peyton Siva said.
Mike Marra's four-point play - when he was fouled while making a three-pointer - gave UofL a 23-10 lead less than seven minutes into the game.
The fast pace that Pitino promised took place early, but the Cards committed some turnovers in the middle of the half that took away from their game. They had 12 miscues in the first 20 minutes. Still Louisville led 46-25 at halftime as it shot 53.3 percent (16 of 30) while holding the Norse to a cool 24.2 percent (8 of 33). The Cards blistered the backboards, 31-13, including 24-10 on the defensive end. Buckles and Marra each tallied 10 points apiece in the first half, while Buckles and Dieng shared rebounding honors with six each.
"He's got a 7-foot-6 wingspan," Buckles said of Dieng. "That's a great asset to have on the team."
Northern Kentucky rallied in the second half. The Norse cut Louisville's lead to 10 (57-47) on a free throw by Chris Knight with 8:14 to play. Knowles, who only had two points in the first half, responded with a basket in the lane on UofL's next possession. However the Cards wouldn't shake the Norse for a few more minutes. Jan Van Hoose's three-pointer made it 59-50 with 6:08 remaining before Buckles hit two free throws after an offensive rebound.
NKU missed a pair of free throws, then Terrence Jennings scored inside to make it 63-50. It was the only field goal of the game for Jennings, who went 1 for 5 from the field while grabbing eight rebounds in 18 minutes.
The Norse answered with a basket, but back-to-back threes by Siva and Knowles and an inside hoop by Buckles boosted Louisville's lead to 71-52.
The Cards cruised from there.
Malcolm Eleby led Northern Kentucky with 21 points on 7 of 16 shooting, including 6 of 13 from the free throw line.
UofL's next game is a Nov. 11 exhibition game against Kentucky Wesleyan five days before its regular season-opener against Butler.
"Kentucky Wesleyan will give us everything we can handle," Pitino said. "If we don't play two good halves they'll beat us."