Louisville's defense stymies Arkansas State

Louisville held Arkansas State to 27 points in Tuesday night's 54-27 victory, the first time since 1947 the Cardinals have held an opponent under 30 points.

The University of Louisville's defensive effort Tuesday night had historians scouring the Cardinal record book.

However the Cardinals' offense performance had UofL coach Rick Pitino shaking his head. Still, led by their dominating defense the Cardinals annihilated Arkansas State 54-27 in the Global Sports Invitational in front of 20,323 at the KFC Yum! Center.

The Red Wolves became the first Louisville foe to score fewer than 30 points since the Cards beat Georgetown College 20-13 on Feb. 4, 1947. It was also the fourth straight game in which UofL has held its opponent to less than 55 points – the first time that's happened since December of 1946.

The Cardinals (4-0), who are No. 7 in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 and No. 8 in the Associated Press poll, held Arkansas State to 24.4 percent shooting (10 for 41) as the Red Wolves finished with 12 more turnovers than field goals.

Louisville - Arkansas State
Louisville's defensive effort early this season has been outstanding, including Tuesday night against Arkansas State. Here are a few noteworthy highlights:

Through four games this season, the Cardinals have put together a defensive performance not seen in Louisville in over 65 years. Louisville held its fourth straight opponent to fewer than 55 points, the first time UofL has accomplished the feat at any point in the season since Dec. 4-14, 1946, when the Cards held Georgetown College (40), Western Kentucky (52), Hanover (43), and Indiana (46) all below the mark.

After taking 5-0 and 7-3 leads to begin the game, Arkansas State went cold for a period of over nine minutes (9:21), failing to crack the scoreboard during a 16-0 Cardinal run. The scoreless stretch set a new arena record for longest opponent scoring drought in terms of time, besting the period of 9:18 Louisville held San Francisco off the scoreboard during the Dons' 11-point second half.

The Red Wolves managed just 12 points in that first half, the fewest for any Cardinal opponent in a first half since the 1972-73 season (box scores unavailable prior). Only twice since that time has a Louisville foe had fewer tallies in a half, with those coming last year (11 in second half by San Francisco on Dec. 8) and in the 1981 Metro Tournament (11 by Cincinnati in second half on March 7).

Arkansas State's 27 total points were also something Louisville had not witnessed in 64+ years. The Red Wolves became the first Cardinal opponent to score fewer than 30 points since Feb. 4, 1947, when Louisville won at Georgetown College, 20-13. No opponent has scored fewer in a Louisville home game since Nichols Hospital had 22 in an 87-22 UofL win on Feb. 19, 1944.

But it was Louisville's offensive offensive execution, particularly in the first half, that bothered Pitino the most. The Cards shot just 32.1 percent (9 for 28) in the first half after shooting 48.4 percent in their first three games.

"The only difference between this and Butler (which UofL beat 69-53 Saturday) is that we played great defense against Butler and we played great defense tonight, except tonight we didn't play great offense because we didn't share the ball enough," Pitino said. "We are playing awesome defense in every game. The only disappointing thing is we have been shooting a high percentage, we shot 51 percent against Butler, and I know Butler isn't the same Butler, but they play awesome defense at home. We did a really good job of sharing the basketball and moving it inside and out, and tonight we did not. We did a lot of good things defensively, and that sticks out to me."

The Red Wolves (1-4), who returned two starters from a team that won a share of the Sun Belt Conference's West Division last season, moved out to an early 7-3 lead on Louisville.

The Cards, though, took control of the game with a 16-0 run as Arkansas State had the longest scoring drought – 9 minutes, 21 seconds – in the brief history of the Yum! Center.

The finish of the first half was ugly to watch and ugly on the stat sheet too. UofL had one field goal over the final 7:52, while Arkansas State went the last 6:57 without a basket as the Red Wolves finished with four more turnovers (16) than points (12).

Senior forward Kyle Kuric nearly outscored Arkansas State by himself. He tallied 10 points in the first half on 4 for 8 shooting, including 1 of 2 from three-point range, but Pitino said he was too selfish.

"He didn't play good team basketball and it hurt us early in the game, it got us in a rut," Pitino said. "We broke down too much rather than stay with what we have been doing, shooting 51 or 52 percent."

UofL shot 32.1 percent (9 for 28) from the field, while Arkansas State managed 31.3 percent (5 of 16).

Louisville took control in the second half with a 20-3 run that was sparked by sophomore guard Elisha Justice ("I thought Bullet played great tonight," Piitno said) as well as the Cardinals' ever-changing defense.

"We are confusing people, we are pressuring people and that hurts them and makes them shoot a low percentage," Pitino said. "The key is learning their system, then deciding what we want to do about it."

A few minutes later in the UofL locker room Cardinal players said that occasionally opponents aren't the only ones who are confused by the Cards' mixture of defenses.

"They don't know what we're doing," Kuric said of opponents, "but sometimes we don't even know what we're doing…but we talk, switch and match up. We have a team defensive effort."

"Our coaches have us really prepared," Justice added.

It's that lack of preparation time, however, that has Pitino concerned about the Cards' next opponent.

The Cards close out the GSI when it hosts Ohio University at 7 p.m. Friday night. Then they turn around and host Long Beach State, which has already beaten Pittsburgh this season, at 7 p.m. next Monday night.

"We play two good teams coming up that if we play offense like we did tonight we will get blown out by 20 points, that is how good Ohio is and that is how good Long Beach State is, they're both terrific teams," Pitino said. "I'm really impressed with Ohio. They share the ball, they run 100 pick and rolls, they duck in great, they shoot it really well and their guards are lightning quick."

"The next two games provide a big test for us," Pitino said.

Pitino also indicated that Siva might not be ready by Friday night's game.

"I don't think Peyton is coming back," he said. "I mean, he is coming back someday, but he doesn't look good right now. Even if he does come back I don't think he will be as good as the other guys we are using right now, but we will see. He has missed almost a month of practice because a lot of those have been double (sessions). We can use him as a back-up point guard for a little bit."

In the locker room Siva, with his left ankle bandaged, said he feels about "75 percent" and probably won't be able to play until he feels 90 or 95 percent.

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