UofL outscored the South Florida 41-21 in the second half en route to a 73-52 win in its Big East Conference opener in front of 19,386 fans at Freedom Hall on Wednesday night in the game before the game - Saturday's showdown at archrival Kentucky.
"We did some good things tonight, we did some poor things tonight, but we got a victory and that was the name of it," UofL coach Rick Pitino said. "But they were depleted and we got them in foul trouble. We didn't play a really good game tonight, but we did get a Big East victory and we are real happy about that."
The Cards (10-3, 1-0) got a game-high 16 points from senior guard Edgar Sosa and 12 points apiece from sophomores Samardo Samuels and Jared Swopshire as they won their fifth straight game, but only their second Big East opener in five tries.
Meanwhile the already short-handed Bulls (10-3, 0-1), who are without leading Augustus Gilchrist until mid-January with a sprained ankle, lost second-leading scorer Dominique Jones to fouls with 12 minutes, 52 seconds to play.
"That was a focal point to stop him and we did a good job in that area," Pitino said of Jones, who finished with five points, well below his 18.6 average.
USF (10-3, 0-1), which was picked 14th in the Big East preseason coaches' poll, wasn't helped by the fact that it missed 14 of 27 free throw attempts (48.1 percent).
Louisville led 32-31 at intermission but could've easily trailed. The Bulls, who closed the half with an 11-2 run, missed 8 of 12 first-half free throw tries (33.3 percent).
Sosa opened the second-half scoring with a three-pointer, but USF still trailed just (37-34) when Jones picked up his fourth foul with 17:29 remaining. He went to the bench and the Cards responded immediately with a 15-0 run. Sosa scored six in the surge as UofL opened up a 17-point lead (52-35).
"That was a tough, tough game for us. We let the Louisville pressure get to us, especially in the second half," said USF coach Stan Heath, whose team committed 21 turnovers, including 16 in the second half. "I thought in the first half we did what we needed to do, neither team is very excited about the free throw shooting, neither team is very excited about the three-point shooting, and neither team is excited about the turnovers...Just being short-handed really cost us, but I think that's Big East basketball. You've got to have some depth, you have to have some guys come into the game and give you some production. And tonight it wasn't too good for us. Obviously we lose Dominique and Chris (Howard) it really put us in a hole."
Howard fouled out with 4:28 to play and moments later the Cards put the exclamation point on the victory when sophomore Kyle Kuric threw down a one-handed dunk off an alley-oop from Sosa, who also finished with a game-high five assists.
UofL shot 46 percent (29 of 63) from the field against USF, which came in allowing opponents only 58.6 points and 37.8 percent shooting. The Cards also won the battle of the backboards 41-37 despite trailing 21-19 at intermission.
The Bulls, meanwhile, shot just 38 percent (19 of 50) from the floor, including 31.6 percent (6 of 19) in the second half.
With less than 40 seconds to play the remaining UofL fans in attendance began chanting, "Beat UK! Beat UK!"
Afterward Pitino talked about the game, which is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
"We haven seen them a lot and we know how great they are and we know their abilities," the UofL coach said. "They are not the tallest team, but they are the fastest team and one of the most athletic teams I have ever seen at Kentucky. So we know what we are up against and it won't be surprising to us. We will work on a game plan to try to limit some of that athleticism. It's not easy to do, no one has been able to do it, that is why they are undefeated."