Niners rout depleted Cards

Charlotte routed ailing 18th-ranked Louisville 87-65 Saturday night at Freedom Hall. Playing without guards Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva, the Cardinals fell behind the Niners early and never rallied.

Playing without three key guards the University of Louisville wasn't only undermanned by Charlotte, the preseason seventh-place pick in the Atlantic 10 Conference, the Cardinals were out-muscled, out-rebounded and out-played on Saturday night.

The 49ers dominated UofL on their way to a 87-65 win, the worst home loss under coach Rick Pitino, in front of 19,221 at Freedom Hall.

"That was a bitter pill to swallow," Pitino said. "The great equalizer is the three-point shot. We can't say it was out of range because they make that shot. They were just much better tonight than us. They outplayed us in every phase of the game. It‘s one thing to miss the shots, that was disappointing, but we rushed our offense the same way we did against Western Kentucky last year trying to make up 16 points with the three-point shot rather than work it around and let our offensive rebounds get into play. Not paying attention to the scouting report was the biggest disappointment and we paid huge consequences because of that. We'll move on, but we've got a lot to learn. It was just a very disappointing loss."

The coach wasn't the only one disappointed. A 25-minute players-only team meeting was called after the game.

"Was it discouraging? No. Was it embarrassing? Most definitely," said senior guard Edgar Sosa, who scored eight points in 30 minutes before fouling out. "(Pitino) said he couldn't even yell at us he was so embarrassed.

"There's a lot of things that have to change on this team. We've kind of been like fool's gold since Day One."

For the second straight game UofL (5-2), which came in No. 18 in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 and No. 20 in the AP poll, played without guards Peyton Siva and Preston Knowles, due to wrist and thumb injuries respectively. Senior Jerry Smith (Achilles injury), joined them on the bench as his streak of 113 consecutive games played came to an end.

"We definitely missed those guys," Sosa said. "But we're not blaming it on this, we have to find a way to win ball games like this."

The trio's absence was apart defensively on the perimeter in the first half, when the 49ers made 8 of 16 three-pointers in building a 47-32 lead. But Charlotte proved equally adapt at doing damage on the inside too. The 49ers (6-1) were especially effective on the glass, out-rebounding UofL 49-35 and outscoring them 21-14 in second-chance points.

"We did not get on the backboard at all," Pitino said. "They've got a young man with a knee brace on from an ACL and he's out-rebounding us at the end of the game when they're up 20. It was disappointing, but we learned a valuable lesson."

The Cards jumped out to a 2-0 lead against their former Conference USA foes on Samardo Samuels' basket 53 seconds into the game. Sosa's three-pointer put them up 5-4 almost a minute later. It was Louisville's last lead.

Derrio Green hit back-to-back threes to give the 49ers a 10-6 lead. Those were the first of four from long range for Green in the first half, including a buzzer-beater, as Charlotte hit 8 of 16 three-pointers to lead by 15 at intermission. The 49ers also out-rebounded the Cards 24-16 in the first 20 minutes.

The second half was more of the same as freshman forward Chris Braswell had 16 of his game-high 21 points and half of his 14 rebounds. Green added 20, including 16 in the first half, while reserve guard Shamarr Bowden tallied 17 on 5 of 12 three-point shooting.

"Unfortunately we have been a very poor defensive team from the beginning," Pitino said. We are not athletic enough defensively, and that's been very disappointing. We lost a lot of athleticism. We are a young team and we are not going to get discouraged. We've been in this situation every year since I've been here. We're not going to get discouraged."

In fact the loudest cheers for UofL late in the game came on the final basket with six seconds to play that gave fans free queso as part of a Tumbleweed promotion.

The loss was Louisville's worst at home since a 106-72 loss to Charlotte in 2001.

"Obviously this was a great win for us," 49ers coach Bobby Lutz said. "Louisville was depleted with injuries and obviously they'll be better when they get everyone healthy. I'm still unbelievably proud of our guys. It's still not easy to come here and win, especially when you're coming off 11 victories a year ago. We have so many new guys. We got blown out at Duke (101-59 on Nov. 17), so to come in and believe we can win was important.

"For me personally it's a very satisfying victory despite the fact that they were short-handed, but let‘s be fair. I was short-handed all year last year, so I can sympathize with that because we had so many guys hurt. Our guys know it was a big win to beat Louisville."

Samuels led UofL with 14 points, on 5 of 9 shooting from the field and 4 for 4 foul shooting, in only 19 minutes. Freshman guard Mike Marra added a career-high 11 points on 3-for-11 three-point shooting. Collectively the Cards were 7 of 28 (25 percent) from long range, and 23 for 64 (35.9 percent) as a whole.

Louisville next hosts Western Carolina at 4 p.m. next Saturday. Pitino said Knowles might play then, but Smith and Siva aren't likely to.

"I would be guessing, but I would say Preston Knowles would be the only one ready next week," the UofL coach said. "I think he would be the only one, but that only one would be a lift for us. They deserve a lot of credit. They played terrific, they made big shots and they deserved a lot of credit."

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