The University of Louisville coach unveiled a new starting five Saturday against Gardner-Webb and they got the Cardinals off to a fast start on their way to a 78-49 victory over the Runnin' Bulldogs in front of 20,434 at the KFC Yum! Center.
The quintet of Peyton Siva, Preston Knowles, Gorgui Dieng, Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric went out for the opening tip against Gardner-Webb and several, if not all, of those players keyed an early 20-0 run by 20th-ranked UofL coming off its first loss of the season to Drexel on Tuesday.
"I think we played great together," said Knowles, the senior guard who scored a career-high, and game-high, 24 points for the Cards. "We all fed off each other's energy."
"I just said, ‘Look every team has a weakness and our weakness is rebounding, so let‘s go to our strengths. What lineups can we put on the court where although we may not be tall, what can we get stronger at?'" Pitino said. "By playing those guys we're better off the bounce, we're better defensively at switching and we're better offensively at ball movement. We were concerned with, and certainly we want to improve our weakness, rebounding, but we're more concerned with being a better offensive basketball team. I think that the ball was stopping too much with our forwards, and it doesn't stop with Kyle."
UofL (9-1), playing its 10th straight home game to start the season, out-shot the Runnin' Bulldogs (6-8), who were playing their 10th straight road game, 50.8 percent to 31.6 percent and out-rebounded them 45-26.
"They played hard and played together and crushed us on the glass," Gardner-Webb coach Chris Holtmann said. "They were all over the glass. They beat us to almost every 50-50 ball, in particular, early."
That after the Cards were beaten on the backboards by the Dragons 46-26 in their first loss in their new home.
"They controlled the glass and kept us from getting out on the break," said Kuric, who scored eight points in 22 minutes Saturday. "Today we controlled the glass and we got out on the break, that was the difference."
It was 5-all early before UofL outscored the Runnin' Bulldogs 24-2 - the Cards scored the last 20 in a row - over a nearly 10-minute stretch as Gardner-Webb, playing its first game in the Bluegrass State since upsetting Kentucky in November 2007, missed 12 straight shots.
Terrence Jennings scored six points off the bench in that run, while Kuric and Knowles tallied five apiece.
UofL's lead reached its apex (22) when 6-foot-4 Mike Marra blocked a dunk attempt by 6-10 Gardner-Webb center Michael Byron on one end, then came down and hit a three-pointer on the other end to make it 37-15 Cards.
The Runnin' Bulldogs, who were picked to finish last in the Big South Conference in the league's preseason poll, scored the final eight points of the first half - on a couple of late threes by David Brown and a dunk by Stefon Johnson - to pull within 39-25 at halftime. But UofL had dominated the first 20 minutes.
The Cards out-rebounded Gardner-Webb 25-13 in the first half, as Dieng grabbed 10.
"He just goes and tries to get every rebound," said Knowles, who scored 15 first-half points on 6 of 8 shooting, of the 6-10 freshman center. "The thing that Gorgui does in helping us, he tries fundamentally to be a factor every time down the court on defense," Pitino added. "It makes it difficult because of his length and it allows us to pressure the basketball and get good thing defensively. Even if we make a mistake he can really bother the mistake that we make and he can erase the mistake in a hurry."
The Cards kept the pedal to the metal in the second half as they outscored the Runnin' Bulldogs 39-24 while shooting 53.6 percent (15 for 28) and holding the visitors to 29.6 percent (8 for 27).
Dieng finished with 11 rebounds, while Knowles grabbed nine and Stephan Van Treese six. Siva dished out seven assists and Knowles four for the Cards, who had 22 assists on 30 field goals. And despite the return of sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles, who missed this game due to a concussion, for Wednesday night's game at Western Kentucky, as well as the possible return of junior forward Jared Swopshire by the new year, Pitino said he would be sticking with this starting five for the foreseeable future.
"This is it," he said.
So look for the same starting five when Louisville plays its first road game of the season against WKU in Bowling Green at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
"We have a big test with our first road game, certainly that is something," Pitino said. "It will be a really tough place to play. We have great respect for Western Kentucky and we've got to be ready for it."