Cardinals romp Kentucky Wesleyan

Sophomore forward Mike Marra made six three-pointers to lead Louisville to a 96-54 win in the Cardinals final exhibition tune-up before next weeks season opener against Butler.

Mike Marra knew that Bellarmine University had beaten Xavier, and that the University of Indianapolis beat Tennessee, in a pair of exhibition college basketball games.

"We didn't want to see ourselves on ESPN with that happening to us," the 6-foot-4 sophomore guard said.

So Marra did his best to keep the Cardinals from making it on ‘SportsCenter' with his highlight-reel shooting performance Thursday night. He hit 6 of 8 three-pointers on his way to a game-high 22 points in Louisville's 96-54 victory over Division II Kentucky Wesleyan in the Cardinals' final exhibition game of the season in front of 19,227 at the KFC Yum! Center.

"Coach P's not a liar," sophomore point guard Peyton Siva said of UofL head coach Rick Pitino. "He said Mike was one of the best high school shooters he's ever seen and we saw it last year in the summer."

Marra, though, struggled as a freshman. He averaged 3.1 points in 27 games last season.

"It was tough," Marra said. "But it's all about confidence. Tonight I hit my first few shots and my confidence grew."

Siva added 18 points for the Cards, including their first seven of the game, to help them open up a lead they wouldn‘t give up. Junior center Terrence Jennings chipped in with 15 points on 5 of 6 shooting, while sophomore Stephan Van Treese added nine points and eight rebounds and classmate Rakeem Buckles tallied eight and eight.

"I think all the sophomores have improved immensely," Pitino said. "There are so many things to learn in our system, so many different defenses and so many keys, that it is tough on freshmen. They are doing things now on instinct rather than trying to memorize things. All four of the sophomores played much better."

With senior guard Preston Knowles sitting out due to a thigh bruise the UofL coach started two sophomores (Siva and Van Treese), two juniors (Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith) and one freshman (Gorgui Dieng) against the Panthers, the eight-time D-II champs who along with Bellarmine and Indianapolis should contend for the Great Lakes Valley Conference title this season.

Siva scored the Cards' first seven points on two free throws, a three-pointer and a layup to give UofL a 7-4 lead. Kentucky Wesleyan stayed close for the first five minutes, trailing only 13-9 before the Cards reeled off 14 straight points. Marra accounted for nine of those on a trio of threes, while Elisha Justice added a three-pointer of his own and Terrence Jennings an inside basket.

Ivey ended the run with a basket inside - the team's first hoop in 5:19 - before Marra hit another three to push Louisville's lead to 20 (31-11).

It continued to grow from there. Siva's three-point play, on the heels of Jennings' first dunk, gave the Cards a 47-20 bulge. Jennings' third dunk - just before the halftime buzzer - was the exclamation point that gave the Cards a 51-25 lead.

Louisville shot 51.4 percent (18 of 35) in the first 20 minutes, while holding the Panthers to 37.9 percent (11 of 29) - including 15.4 percent (2 for 13) from three-point range.

Marra led Louisville with 14, while Siva added 12 and Jennings 10 on 4-for-4 shooting for the Cards. UofL also outrebounded Kentucky Wesleyan 25-14 led by Rakeem Buckles with seven and used that for a 16-2 advantage in second-chance points. Louisville also forced 15 turnovers and converted those into 18 points.

The second half was more of the same. The only drama centered around whether or not UofL would score 100, each player would score (everyone but George Goode did) and if the fans would make it home in time for their favorite Thursday night television show.

UofL shot 46.4 percent (13 of 28) in the second half to finish at 49.2 percent (31 for 63) for the game. The Cards made 25 of 35 free throws, compared to Kentucky Wesleyan's 2-for-10, and outrebouned the Panthers 50-31 led by Van Treese, Smith and Buckles. Van Treese, Siva and Smith also had three steals apiece for the Cards, who scored 27 points off 25 Kentucky Wesleyan turnovers.

"We did a lot of good things offensively," Pitino said. "The fatigue sets in and we overthrow some of our passes, but we were much better this game than we were in the first exhibition game in two halves, especially on the defensive end."

The Cards have five days before they open their regular season Tuesday night at 8 p.m. against 2010 NCAA runner-up Butler at the Yum! Center.

"We know we are going to have to do some good things in the half court and protect the basketball because they will make you pay," Pitino said. "We are going to try to play our style and we may have our runs. We couldn't really press a great deal tonight because we had such a big lead, but when we did press we pressed effectively."

"The most important thing right now is to get healthy and to get ready for this game. But the players are having a lot of fun playing the game. They are having a lot of fun moving the basketball. They like the pace a great deal. That is what you want to see in the exhibition game. We got better the second time out. We still have a long way to go, but we are making strides."

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