Four days after rallying from 18 points down in the final 5 minutes, 44 seconds to beat Marquette, the Cardinals were nearly flawless in an 88-63 slamming of St. John's on Wednesday night in front of 21,638 fans at the KFC Yum! Center.
"The other night was a tremendous victory, tonight was a complete shock," said UofL coach Rick Pitino, who improved his all-time record to 587-213 in his 800th game. "We played a great game in every phase...I just can't find fault with anything with these guys tonight."Senior guard Preston Knowles scored 25 points - his second-best scoring effort of the season - while junior forward Kyle Kuric added 20 points off the bench in his second-best scoring output of the season. But it was sophomore point guard Peyton Siva who nearly stole the show, literally.
He tallied 10 points to go along with 10 assists and seven steals for UofL (15-3, 4-1 in the Big East), No. 19 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 15 in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25, which played without junior center Terrence Jennings (hip pointer) and lost Stephan Van Treese (cramping) in the second half.
"We knew if we came out like we did last year in Madison Square Garden (a game UofL lost 74-55) we'd get run out of the building," Siva said.
Instead it was the Cards who ran the Red Storm (11-6, 4-3) out of the Yum Center behind some scorching shooting. UofL hit 15 of its first 19 shots (78.9 percent) in putting together runs of 11 and 10 straight points and building a 40-17 lead against the team that was Pitino's preseason pick to win the conference.
"It was just moving the ball and sharing the ball," said Siva of the Cards, who finished with 24 assists.
After Knowles scored the first points of the game Louisville's early offense came from Smith, who hit back-to-back threes to give the Cards a 9-4 lead, and its center position. Freshman center Gorgui Dieng followed up Smith's three-pointers with back-to-back jumpers before reserve George Goode added a jumper after he came in for Dieng.
"TJ has a hip pointer. He said he would go, but I just don't think when you're a running and pressing team that guys who play at 70 or 80 percent are of any value," Pitino said. "I told George and the other guys, ‘You just have to step up, it's your time to step up.'
"It was a good lesson for all our guys. We really don't care about injuries, our message was, ‘Everybody's on scholarship, step up,' and they did."
Goode's jumper gave UofL a 15-13 lead and started an 11-0 run by the Cards. Smith followed with a free throw, Goode hit a turnaround then Kuric hit back-to-back threes.
"Everybody just stepped up and played their role," Smith said.
Paris Horne's pair of free throws end Louisville's run, making it 24-15, but only briefly.
Kuric hit another three to start a 10-0 spurt that included a basket by Siva, a basket allowed to Knowles on a goal-tending call, one free throw by Siva and a layin by Van Treese as the Cards converted nine first-half St. John's turnovers into nine points.
"Louisville beat us to the punch in all aspects of the game, they were aggressive on defense and they were able to turn us over," said St. John's coach Steve Lavin, whose team finished with 25 turnovers after coming in averaging only 11.8 per game.
Horne's monster dunk with 6:34 left in the first half ended a St. John's field goal dry spell of more than seven minutes before Kuric followed that up with his fourth three-pointer of the half.
"I had some good looks today, open threes, and I just knocked them down," said Kuric, who finished 5 of 7 from long range.
Red Storm senior guard Dwight Hardy answered with a layup before Siva banged home another three to make it 40-17.
St. John's trimmed Louisville's lead to 44-31 by halftime. The Cards shot 65.4 percent (17 for 26) in the first half, including 70 percent (7 of 10) from three-point range, and got 14 points from Kuric.
"Kyle was more aggressive tonight, you could see him take his defender off the bounce," Siva said.
Despite losing some of its lead late in the first half UofL came out just as aggressive after halftime.
The Cards outscored the Red Storm 17-8 in the first six minutes of the second half then used a 10-2 run - which was all via Knowles - to put the game away. Knowles hit a short jumper, followed that up with a three-pointer, then had a steal and dunk before assisting another three by Kuric.
"From start to finish they were aggressive and played a very cohesive brand of basketball, while we were a step slow and passive," Lavin said.
The capper for the Cards came with a little more than 6 ½ minutes remaining when Siva tipped a loose ball to Goode for a dunk.
"I thought Peyton did an unbelievable job tonight," Pitino said. "I thought he was great. I really thought he ran the team, he got his shots, and I thought he was really great."
The Cards shot 53.2 percent (33 for 62) for the game, including 50 percent (13 for 26) from three-point range. Louisville also committed only 12 errors, while converting the Red Storm's 25 turnovers into 30 points.
"I'm in a little bit of shock right now with the way we played tonight, through tremendous adversity, but extremely pleased that we can play this well," said Pitino, who added that he wasn‘t sure about Jennings‘ status for UofL‘s next game and sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles will likely be out three more weeks.
The Cards next travel to Providence at 5 p.m. Saturday.