Jerry Smith scored 14 points as the Cardinals used a 30-4 advantage in bench points to beat WVU 63-54 Thursday at Freedom Hall in a game that wasn't as close as the final score. UofL led by 21, 63-42, with 4:10 left before the Mountaineers closed with the final 12 points of the game in the last 90 seconds.
Down 32-24 at the break, West Virginia never got any closer than six points afterward. No other player besides Joe Alexander – who finished with a game-high 22 points, including 14 straight for WVU in the second half – scored from the 13-minute mark until there were less than eight minutes left. That lone threat against balanced Louisville scoring allowed UofL to push its edge to 53-40, making the last eight minutes nearly irrelevant, especially after a 10-0 run gave it the game's biggest lead. The Mountaineers, who also got 13 points from Alex Ruoff and eight from Da'Sean Butler, could only pull within single digits one time, that on Ruoff's three with seven seconds left.
The Cardinals (11-4, 1-1 Big East) got 11 points and 12 rebounds from Earl Clark, off a one-game suspension, and 10 points from Edgar Sosa. Both came off the bench, as did David Padgett, who scored nine. Louisville held WVU to 42 percent shooting and a season-low 54 points. The Mountaineers, which missed 13 of 17 threes and eight of 18 free throws, scored just 24 in the opening period, and were held to 18 in the second half until the last two minutes, when they exploded for 12.
"We score 54 points we aren't going to beat anybody," West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. "Hold someone to 63, that ought to be enough to win. But we keep making those mistakes. I have said it several times. I just keep asking why we are making those plays. We want to dance around with it when they are three feet away. You look like a goof. Don't be stupid, be smart. The best players make the game look easy. Jerry West made the game look easy."
Louisville, whose pressure routinely took 10 seconds off the shot clock, scored 10 of the final 12 points of the first half to take a 32-24 edge. The game was as balanced as they come until then, featuring nine lead changes and five ties, the last being 22-22 on Ruoff's 3-pointer with six minutes left. WVU's biggest lead was 7-5 on a Ruoff jumper. The Cardinals were able to build their biggest opening period lead when the Mountaineers committed consecutive turnovers and began allowing too many consistent second-chance opportunities.
UofL used its superior length to get to the free throw line on three straight trips starting at the 6:43 mark. It chased that with back-to-back putbacks by Clark and Padgett, the latter giving Louisville a 27-22 lead. It added another Clark basket inside and a three from Sosa on a rebound and kick out. The Mountaineers went scoreless for the final 2:41, with Alexander missing two free throws and Nichols missing long on a final chance. The 24 points were a season-low for the first half. It was the first game Louisville had its entire roster after a series of injuries and suspensions.
"This is a home court league," said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, who avoided falling to 0-2 at Freedom Hall. "It didn't use to be. But it is now. That's what it has become."
Both teams were under 40 percent at the half. The Cardinals, who pressed after every made basket, forced seven first-half turnovers, al of which led directly to points. WVU countered with a man and amorphous blob-like zone, termed a point down. It was essentially a match-up zone that packs the interior, forcing UofL to shoot from the outside. It made just three of 12, but that didn't help the rebounding numbers in the first 20 minutes, as WVU trailed 21-17, including nine offensive boards for the Cardinals.
West Virginia (11-4, 1-2) did manage a 39-39 stalemate on the boards in losing for the third time in four games; 11 of Louisville's were offensive, however. Alexander made seven of 14 shots. Ruoff missed 10 of 14 shots, seven of 10 from three. That mimicked his poor performance against the Cards last season in the Big East Tournament, when he missed 11 of 13, including five of six threes.
It was WVU's first game in Kentucky since 1991; it fell to 12-14 all-time and 2-3 in Freedom Hall, including 1959 NCAA national championship loss to California. The Mountaineers beat UofL in the Final Four there. It was the third Big East meeting between the teams, with the Cards leading 2-1. Huggins, booed during pregame introductions, is now 6-8 all-time in the Hall.