L'ville opens arena with big win over Butler

Rakeem Buckles led Louisville (1-0) to an 88-73 upset of defending national runner-up and 18th-ranked Butler Tuesday night in the first game at the KFC Yum! Center.

The University of Louisville men's basketball team faced plenty of questions in the preseason.

But Tuesday night the Cardinals answered several of those, and provided an exclamation point in their first regular-season game in the KFC Yum! Center.

They rode an almost flawless first half, and five players scoring in double figures, to an 88-73 victory over 2010 NCAA runner-up Butler in their new downtown arena.

UofL blew out to an early lead, then held the 16th-ranked Bulldogs at bay the rest of the way in front of 22,723, including Dick Vitale and an ESPN audience as part of the network's "Tip-Off Marathon."

"I don't think it's rocket science for anybody, we got out-played," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "For whatever reason we got caught up in the atmosphere. It's a great atmosphere.

"And they're really good, and don't let anyone else tell you they are not. They've got 10 or 11 players that can play at a lot of places. So all the Big East predictions are probably wrong based on what I've seen watching two games on film (and playing them)."

Louisville knocked off Butler in the first game at the KFC Yum! Center Tuesday night. (AP)
The Cards, who were picked to finish eighth in their conference in the preseason, opened the season with their only returning starter (Jared Swopshire) sidelined with a groin injury. But Tuesday night they showed they had done some growing in the off-season.

Louisville's sophomore class led the way in its season-opening victory.

"Every team I've coached, from their freshman to their sophomore year, is when they've made the most improvement," UofL coach Rick Pitino said. "That whole class has really improved."

Sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles led the way with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

"I think we gained a little respect, but we've got a long way to go," said Buckles, who hit 6 of 12 shots including a key late three-pointer.

His classmate Mike Marra added 11 points - including the first in the new building to go along with five rebounds and five assists. Junior center Terrence Jennings contributed 13 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots, while senior guard Preston Knowles and freshman guard Elisha Justice came off the bench to tally 12 points apiece.

"We just executed tonight," Jennings said of a team that had 18 assists on its 27 field goals. "We're a lot better than people think."

The Cards couldn't have executed a better beginning.

Louisville reeled off the first eight points of the game on a three by Marra, a three-point play by Buckles and an inside hoop by Jennings.

Junior guard Shelvin Mack kept the Bulldogs close early, and with big man Matt Howard picking up two quick fouls he had to. Mack scored seven of the team's first nine points. A three by the Lexington, Ky. native pulled Butler within 11-9.

The Cards ran off 10 of the next 13, though.

Another three by Marra capped that surge and made it 21-12 UofL with 8:43 left in the first half. With his team in trouble Stevens put Howard back in the game. The senior forward hit a pair of free throws, then Mack scored on a driving layup to make it 27-19 with a little more than five minutes remaining.

But Jennings had back-to-back baskets - the second a thunderous dunk off a nifty pass from Justice - to stop Butler's mini-run.

Mack hit two more free throws, but the Cards ran off eight straight. Sophomore Stephan Van Treese, who played well against his hometown team, finished the spurt off with an alley-oop dunk off a feed from Knowles.

The two teams traded baskets as Louisville led 41-23 at halftime. UofL made 15 of 34 shots (44.1 percent) in the first half and had 11 assists on those field goals against only three turnovers. By contrast, Butler was just 7 for 30 (23.3 percent) from the field with just two assists. Buckles, Jennings and Knowles each had eight points apiece for the Cards, while Mack had 17 points for the Bulldogs.

The second half started off a lot like the first half ended.

Buckles blocked Andrew Smith's dunk attempt between the rim and the backboard on Butler's first shot attempt after intermission. The Bulldogs missed six of their first seven shots and five straight points - on an old-fashioned three-point play and a layup - by Siva gave the Cards their largest lead (50-26) with 16:10 to play.

But Butler wasn't giving up.

The Bulldogs scored six straight to make it 52-32. It was the first of several run by the Bulldogs in the second half. Four free throws by Howard followed by a three from Mack, who missed stretches of the second half with leg cramps, made it 61-50 with 6:35 remaining.

The Bulldogs had some chances to trim Louisville's to single digits in the next couple of minutes, but couldn't.

Trailing 64-53 Howard, a career 78-percent free throw shooter, missed a pair of foul shots. Buckles responded on the other end with a spinning basket.

Howard hit two free throws on Butler's next possession, but Van Treese scored on an offensive rebound to push UofL's lead back to 13 (68-55). A layup by Howard made it 68-57, but Buckles answered again. This time with a three to make it 71-57 with 3:17 left.

The rest of the game was a free throw parade.

Butler outscored Louisville 50-47 in the second half, but still shot just 35 percent (21 of 60) for the game. The Bulldogs were just 6 of 25 (24 percent) from three-point range.

"This is like one of those things you get invited to and you usually respond, ‘No,'" Stevens joked afterwards. "Buckles is really good and Jennings is really good and they can shoot, they can all shoot. The thing I like about the team is that they are all fearless, they're all tough and they all play the right way. I know it's going to be a long year but I cannot imagine, with players like that and depth like that, that they won't have a great year."

UofL, meanwhile, shot 45.8 percent (27 for 59) from the field and outscored the Bulldogs 36-22 in the paint. Boosted by Knowles, who went out late with leg cramps, and Justice the Cards also outscored Butler 36-16 in bench points.

"This is just the beginning for us because these players are just going to get better and better," Pitino said afterward.

UofL hosts Jackson State at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the second of 10 straight home games to start the season.

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