Cards pressure too much for WKU

Louisville (7-3) turned up the defensive pressure against Western Kentucky Saturday afternoon at Freedom Hall to win their second straight game, 102-75, over the Hilltoppers.

The University of Louisville locker room was jubilant after the Cardinals walloped Western Kentucky 102-75 Saturday afternoon in the Billy Minardi Classic.

Was it because UofL avenged last year's loss to the Hilltoppers? Nope.

Was it because the Cards forced a season-best in turnovers and converted those into an astounding 36 points? Nope.

"The kids went absolutely berserk in the locker room, not because I said they caused 25 turnovers. Not because I said they had 10 steals and shot 56 percent, not because of all the incredible effort in the double sessions they have gone through this week," UofL coach Rick Pitino said. "But because I said I am giving them the day off. You would have thought we had won the national championship."

Saturday they won the Minardi Classic for the third straight year behind 17 points apiece from senior guards Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith. Sosa, who also added five assists, was named the Classic's most valuable player. But those two had plenty of help.

Sophomore center Samardo Samuels scored 14 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds, while fellow sophomore center Terrence Jennings tallied 11 points and five rebounds off the bench for the Cards, who dominated the Hilltoppers in the paint - outscoring them 52-20.

Sophomore forwards Jared Swopshire and Kyle Kuric added 10 points apiece. Kuric's came off the bench as UofL's reserves outscored their Western Kentucky counterparts 39-19.

The Cardinals (7-3) shot 55.6 percent (35 for 63) from the field, including 60.6 percent (20 of 33) in the second half as they expanded on their 45-30 halftime lead. That was a far cry from last November, when UofL shot 26.8 percent in a 68-54 loss to Western Kentucky in Nashville.

"We were really, really pressing aggressively and they key is that when we shoot a high percentage, you get it on more than when the disparity builds on the turnover standpoint," Pitino said. "The big key was we were aggressive offensively. The last time we played them we were certainly not aggressive on the offensive end."

And a lot of times UofL's offense came from its defense. Back-to-back steals and dunks by Smith and Sosa ignited an early 14-2 run that gave the Cards a 24-14 lead 10 minutes into the game. UofL used a 12-1 run late in the half to build commanding 15-point halftime lead.

"There were no surprises in the game in terms of what we were ready to expect," Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald said. "We weren't ready to go and execute our press offense and stay aggressive. And just too many turnovers...They're a typical Coach Pitino team, they kept getting more aggressive. As we stayed passive they got more aggressive."

"That run just before the half really hurt us," said Slaughter, whose team shot 52.4 percent (11 of 21) from the field in the first half, but had 12 turnovers.

The Cardinals, who shot 50 percent in the first half (15 of 30), seized command with a 16-3 surge early in the second half.

The final four minutes Louisville had its own personal layup line. The Cards' final seven field goals were either layups or dunks, including a couple of alley-oops. Even reserve guards Mike Marra and Chris Brickley got into the act.

"It's just embarrassing that we didn't come out and play hard," said Western Kentucky senior guard A.J. Slaughter, a graduate of Shelby County High School.

Slaughter, who tallied 25 points in last season's upset of Louisville, scored 16 points Saturday.

"They did a good job taking A.J. Slaughter out of the game by doubling him and running at him early," McDonald said.

Junior forward Steffphon Pettigrew scored a game-high 23 points to lead the Hilltoppers (5-4), who played without their second-leading scorer, and leading rebounder, Sergio Kerusch. The 6-foot-5 junior forward, who was averaging 13.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, broke his foot in practice Friday.

UofL, which has now won two straight since back-to-back losses to Charlotte and Western Carolina, next hosts Louisiana-Lafayette at 7:07 p.m. Wednesday night.

"I just think we don't panic," Pitino said. "You all want reasons why we are losing. It hits you in the head like a sledgehammer it is so obvious. But sometimes you don't see it. It is something you have to live through. We played two very good teams. One was extremely hot that night, Charlotte. And the other team was very good and they beat us. You have to give them credit. We are improving as a basketball team, but we have been through this every year now. We had three losses before Christmas three years in a row, so we live through it and we don't panic."


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