Double-teaming Louisville's freshman big man at every turn, the Hilltoppers stunned the Cardinals 68-54 on Sunday for their first victory over a top-three opponent in more than 40 years.
A.J. Slaughter led the Hilltoppers (3-2) with a career-high 25 points and Steffphon Pettigrew added 17 points and 12 rebounds for Western Kentucky, which dominated the Cardinals (2-1) at both ends of the floor in the second half.
Western Kentucky held Louisville without a field goal for nearly 10 minutes in the second half and rode Slaughter and Pettigrew to the program's biggest regular-season win since knocking off then-No. 4 Kentucky in 2001.
This was no last-second stunner. Western Kentucky took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Slaughter with 13:50 remaining and pulled away.
Slaughter, the leading returning scorer from last year's team that reached the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament, did it all to lift the Hilltoppers to their first victory over a top-three team since knocking off No. 3 Indiana in 1967.
It also was a memorable victory for first-year coach Ken McDonald, a former Texas assistant who caught the coaching bug by sneaking into Providence practices in the mid-1980s when the Friars were coached by Rick Pitino.
In front of a highly partisan crowd at the Sommet Center, about 45 minutes south of Western Kentucky's campus in Bowling Green, McDonald borrowed a page from Pitino's playbook. The Hilltoppers used a stifling defense to negate Louisville's size advantage and safely navigated the Cardinals' full-court pressure.
Louisville, meanwhile, hardly looked like the trendy preseason Final Four pick. Settling for jumpers when the middle was cut off, the Cardinals clanged their way out of the game after taking a 37-36 lead with 14:15 remaining.
Slaughter's 3-pointer gave the Hilltoppers the lead and Anthony Sally followed with a runner on the baseline. Jeremy Evans, giving away 70 pounds to Samuels, hit a putback and followed with a tip-in to push the lead to 47-40. Louisville would get no closer than five the rest of the way.
Samuels, who looked dominant at times during two easy Louisville victories last weekend, couldn't get going against the Hilltoppers. Western Kentucky often threw two bodies at the freshman whenever he touched the ball making him either force something or give it up.
His teammates weren't much better. Louisville missed its first eight shots, preventing the Cardinals from getting into their full-court press. On the few occasions Louisville was able to turn up the heat, Western Kentucky's steady guard play was able to play keepaway and slow the game down.
Louisville finally appeared to get a little momentum when a late 7-0 run in the half gave the Cardinals a 28-24 lead. Slaughter, however, tied it at 28 at the break, drilling a 25-footer at the horn. He then celebrated by pumping his arms toward the sea of red-clad Western Kentucky supporters.