Cards hang on against West Virginia

Jerry Smith and Terrence Jennings keyed a 40-15 run to close out the first half and propel No. 7 Louisville (17-3, 8-0) to a 69-63 win over West Virginia (15-6, 4-4) Saturday in Freedom Hall.

The University of Louisville's game against West Virginia on Saturday was a tale of two halves. And if you named them the first half would be: The Cardinals could do no wrong.

And the second half would be: Just enough to hang on.

In the end UofL's huge first half was big enough to overcome a not-so-strong second half in the Cards' 69-63 win over the Mountaineers in front of 19,416 fans at Freedom Hall.

And for the first time in awhile it wasn't Terrence Williams, Earl Clark or Edgar Sosa who led the way for Louisville.

Junior guard Jerry Smith scored a season-high 20 points - 18 in the first half - while freshman backup center Terrence Jennings scored 13 points (10 in the first half) as the seventh-ranked Cards won their ninth straight game.

"Any given night anyone can explode for this team, tonight it was Jerry and TJ," said Clark, who added four points, five rebounds, five assists and four blocks.

The victory put UofL (17-3, 8-0) alone atop the Big East standings, if only for a short time, but possibly for longer. Fellow Big East unbeaten Marquette hosted Georgetown later in the afternoon.

Louisville built a 45-25 halftime lead, then appeared to be on cruise control much of the second half before turning up the heat on defense late in the game.

Terrence Jennings played a big part
in Louisville's 69-63 win over WVU.

"That's as good a half as we can play," UofL coach Rick Pitino said. "We've never had 33 deflections in a half, we try to get 35 in a game, but we only had four the second half...we had a record high in the first half and a record low in the second half."

West Virginia (15-6, 4-4), which had won four of its previous five games coming in, jumped out to an early 10-5 lead. The Mountaineers still led 12-10 eight minutes into the game before the Cards took command.

They outscored West Virginia 15-1 over the next four minutes, sparked by Jennings. He scored scored eight points in that spurt on back-to-back dunks, a pretty reverse and most surprising, knocking down two free throws.

"He just keeps improving, improving, improving," Pitino said.

"TJ brought it today, that's all you can say," Smith added.

If the middle of the first half was Jennings' time, the end of the first half was Smith's time. He scored 10 points in the final 3:57 on two free throws, a layup off a backdoor cut and a pair of threes. His last long-range bomb gave UofL its largest lead, 45-23.

Smith has struggled at times this season, he hadn't scored in double figures since the win over Kentucky, but he stood tall against the Mountaineers. He hit 6 of 7 shots, including 4 of 5 from three-point range, in just 14 minutes as he eclipsed his previous season high (16) in the first half.

Afterward Smith credited a recent conversation with Pitino for his breakout game.

"After (Wednesday's game) he sat me down and said, 'You just gotta stay positive, keep working, your time will come,'" Smith said.

UofL shot 59.3 percent (16-for-27) in the first half, including 5 of 10 from three-point range against a West Virginia team that came in second nationally in three-point field goal percentage defense (26.8).

Meanwhile the Mountaineers shot just 26.9 percent (7-for-26) in the first half, including 1 of 6 from three-point range (16.7 percent).

But in the second half West Virginia chipped away Louisville's lead. The Mountaineers more than doubled UofL's shot attempts (33 to 16) as they outscored the Cards 38-24 after intermission.

West Virginia trimmed Louisville's lead to four (63-59) with two minutes remaining before Samardo Samuels hit two free throws, then Preston Knowles forced a turnover.

"Our execution obviously was a whole lot better in the second half than it was in the first half," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "You can't continue to throw the ball to them and expect to win. I think I heard Rick say they had 33 deflections in the first half, which he said he can't remember having that many. They're good, they're active. They get to the ball and we helped them. And when you have all those things going for you, you can't help them. And we helped them."

UofL lost steam, and lost T-Will for a short time, down the stretch.

Williams fell to the ground underneath his own basket with just under 10 minutes to play when he assisted a Jennings dunk. He lay there for a few moments before returning to the UofL bench.

He returned a couple of minutes later, though, and seemed to show no ill effects when he slammed home an alley-oop from Andre McGee with five minutes remaining, or the game-clinching dunk with 23 seconds to play.

UofL, which has won 17 of its last 18 regular-season conference games, hosts Connecticut, which should be No. 1 when the new polls come out, at 7 p.m. Monday.

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