Louisville runs past Long Beach State

Louisville started and finished strong in a 79-66 victory over Long Beach State Monday night.

A high-octane start propelled the University of Louisville men's basketball team past Long Beach State on Monday night.

The Cardinals scored the first eight points of the game, and never trailed, on their way to a 79-66 win over the 49ers in front of 20,468 at the KFC Yum! Center.

UofL shot 55 percent in building a 12-point halftime lead, then kept Long Beach State at bay in the second half for its sixth straight victory to start the season.

"We got the pace we wanted, finally," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "We did a great job in the first half, and we ran out of gas in the second half because we haven't practiced at our pace."

Five players scored in double digits for the Cards (6-0), who are ranked No. 6 in both national polls, led by Chris Smith. The senior guard hit 5 of 10 shots, including 4 of 6 three-pointers, on his way to a game-high 18 points. Freshman forward Chane Behanan added 13 points, while point guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith scored 11 apiece and redshirt junior forward Jared Swopshire tallied 10.

Long Beach State (3-3) came into the game regarded as one of the best mid-major teams in the country, thanks in large part to an 86-76 victory at Pittsburgh 12 days ago, but coming off a 73-71 loss at Montana on Friday night. That was one reason why Pitino wanted his team to come out and push the pace against the likely jet-lagged 49ers.

"We wanted to press them, we wanted to run them because we knew they were coming from Montana and probably they weren't flying private charter," the UofL coach said. "We wanted to get after them right away and try and wear them out a little bit."

The Cards, who entered averaging 66.6 points per game, did just that.

Chris Smith hit a three-pointer 56 seconds into the game, then scored on a layup moments later off a Siva steal. Kyle Kuric hit 1 of 2 free throws, on the heels of his own steal, then Gorgui Dieng scored inside – shortly after Siva's second steal – to give Louisville an 8-0 advantage.

"We started on the road down 8-0 and it looked like five freshmen out there instead of four seniors," 49ers coach Dan Monson said. "To me that was a disappointing start. We rushed shots around the rim and missed a lot of easy shots. Part of that was obviously due to their quickness, they got us off balance in there. We only have these opportunities so often against a team like this and I would love to have played a little better."

But Long Beach State, a veteran team and the preseason pick to win the Big West Conference, eventually got its legs and battled back. The 49ers trimmed Louisville's lead to 18-13 with 12 minutes left in the first half before the Cards went on a 17-6 spurt over the next five minutes.

UofL's Smith & Smith attack sparked the surge, accounting for 15 of those points. Sophomore Russ Smith scored four points and dished out two assists, while Chris Smith hit another three-pointer and also tallied two assists. Russ Smith's assist to Kuric for a layup gave the Cards their largest lead, 35-19, with 7:20 remaining before halftime.

Louisville led 44-32 at intermission thanks to 16 of 29 shooting from the field, including 6 of 9 (66.7 percent) from three-point range.

"The first half I thought we were brilliant," Pitino said.

Chris Smith paced the Cards with 13 points in 18 minutes. Meanwhile Russ Smith had nine points and his aforementioned two assists in 14 minutes thanks to the fact that Siva picked up two quick fouls and played only seven minutes and sophomore guard Elisha Justice missed the game after breaking his nose in practice.

"The best thing about all these injuries is the development of Russ Smith," Pitino said afterward.

The Cards couldn't keep up their racehorse-style of play in the second half, though. The 49ers forged their way back into the game, going on a 12-2 run and cutting Louisville's lead to 57-52 with 8:35 to play.

But then the Smiths came up big once again.

Russ Smith assisted Dieng for a layup on a backdoor cut, then Chris Smith hit a corner three-pointer to boost UofL's lead to 63-55.

Long Beach State got closer only once, on a layup by T.J. Robinson with 1:03 left.

The Cards, who had several key players in foul trouble in the second half, then sealed the game by making all six of their free throws (four by Siva and two by Chris Smith) in the final 46 seconds.

"We continue to make free throws when it counts and that's very pleasing," said Pitino, whose team hit 14 of their 17 free throw tries (82.4 percent) in the second half and 20 of 26 (76.9 percent) for the game.

Louisville shot 45.6 percent (26 of 57) from the field for the game. The Cards made 41.2 percent (7 of 17) of their three-point tries, but were only 1 of 8 from long range in the second dhalf. The 49ers, though, were just 3 of 11 (27.3 percent) from beyond the three-point arc as they shot 45.5 percent (25 of 55) for the game.

Injury-plagued UofL next hosts Vanderbilt, which is No. 19 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll and No. 20 in the Associated Press Top 25, at 9 p.m. Friday night.

"We're just working our way back," Pitino said. "We're winning and we beat a very, very good basketball team tonight, and that's what counts."

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