The Cardinals shot 50 percent from the field and were unselfish on offense as they knocked off the Knights, the preseason No. 1 in Division II who were among the national leaders in shooting and assists last year, 88-65 in front of 18,304 fans at Freedom Hall.
Sophomore center Samardo Samuels bulled his way to 18 points and 14 rebounds, while junior guard Preston Knowles added 15 points in a rare start and senior guard Edgar Sosa chipped in with 12 points and a team-high four assists.
"The unselfish passing, the ball movement, the way we were changing ends was very, very good," UofL coach Rick Pitino said. "For 2 ½ weeks into the season this team is as unselfish and as good a shooting as I've had."
Those were two of the big strengths last season for the Knights, who went 26-7 and finished fourth in D-II in field goal percentage and 19th in assists, but the Cards flipped the script against former UofL assistant Scotty Davenport and his team. The Cards' crisp passing led to some easy baskets inside and a 34-24 scoring advantage in the points in the paint.
"We're very unselfish offensively," said Knowles, who hit 6 off 11 shots, including 3 of 7 from long range, and also had three assists.
Knowles was part of the lineup shake-up that Pitino had promised during his Tuesday press conference. The Cards started three guards - Knowles, Sosa and Jerry Smith - along with Samuels and fellow sophomore big man Terrence Jennings up front.
"Terrence is a good complement to me and I think I'm a good complement to him," said Samuels, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds in UofL‘s first exhibition game victory over Georgetown College last week.
Samuels and Jennings combined for 19 rebounds, including 10 by Samuels on the offensive end, as UofL won the battle of the backboards 45-34. The Cards, who never trailed, scored the first seven points of the game on a jumper by Samuels, an inside basket by Jennings and a three-pointer from Knowles.
Bellarmine, which returns four starters from a team that lost to eventual D-II national champ Findlay (Ohio) on its home court in the Sweet 16, cut the lead to four on a three-pointer by Justin Benedetti moments later. But that's as close as the Knights would be all night. Benedetti, a junior, kept Bellarmine close by scoring 13 first-half points on 5 of 9 shooting. However he couldn't single-handedly out-do the Cards, who made 17 of 32 shots (53.1 percent) in the first half and led 43-30 at intermission.
The Knights scored the first four points of the second half, on a three by Benedetti and a free throw by Andrew Patterson, to pull within nine put Knowles answered with back-to-back baskets. A three-pointer by Luke Sprague brought the Knights within 10 (52-42) a few minutes later, but the Cards responded by outscoring Bellarmine 25-10 over a 7 ½-,minute stretch to push their lead to 25.
"When they turned the screws up the last 6-, 7- minutes it knocked us back on our heels a little bit," Davenport said. "I like them because they come at you in waves and Samardo is a man-child, you're going to see that from him all year."
Freshman guard Peyton Siva highlighted the second-half surge with a pair of plays. The first was a block off a shot by BU's Forrest Smallwood on a fast break.
"I was more impressed with the block because he came out of nowhere," Knowles said afterward.
Moments later Siva followed up Smith's missed layup with a two-handed, reverse dunk.
"I was just trying to hustle back and make the play," said Siva, who added nine points in 15 minutes off the bench.
"Those were two of the more spectacular plays I've seen. Not too many 6-foot guys do that," Pitino said, before joking, "I did it a few times."
About the only area where the Cards struggled was on the free throw line, where they were 11 for 19 (57.9 percent). But UofL has plenty of time to practice foul shooting with nearly two weeks to prepare for its season-opener, Nov. 17 against Arkansas in the Hall of Fame Showcase in St. Louis.
"We've been preparing for Arkansas from Day One," Pitino said. "Before they had the discipline issues (last season) they were 13-, 14-1 and beat Texas and beat Oklahoma, so they were a young team and now they are a year older. So we have been working on our man-to-man defense. We wanted to work on things like defending off the dribble (against Bellarmine). We weren't interested in any other thing than that tonight."