When the 4th ranked University of Louisville Cardinals (13-1) entered the KFC Yum! Center, one had to wonder if there would be a hangover from Saturday's emotional victory over the Kentucky Wildcats. That had to be what the Providence Friars (8-5) had on their minds as both teams faced off in each others Big East Conference openers. Louisville woke up, though, and spanked the Friars 80-62.
Forward Chane Behanan came into the game with question marks because of the flu. And when the team introductions didn't include Russ Smith, more questions flew. Not that fans don't appreciate what Kevin Ware does for the team, but getting the starting nod over the possible team MVP? Coach Rick Pitino said they thought the game would be close and wanted to save the Smith-Peyton Siva combination for later in the game in case he needed them.
As a Big East opener, it didn't feel like one because it was called like a finesse game rather than the typical physical conference style. Not that mattered for about 10 minutes of the first half as the Cards trailed on ice cold shooting from the entire team. It took some time for Louisville to start rolling and even then the Friars didn't go away.
Providence crashed the boards on every shot, limiting the Cardinal ability at tips and put backs. In fact, the Friars beat Louisville on the glass by one. But the bad news: Pitino gradually got through to his young team that they outmatch the visitors at every position. And with 5 minutes to go in the half, the Cards turned on the jets to go into the locker room with the lead, 37-31.
Things got worse for Providence in the second half. Louisville used their superior talent and to pull away. The Cards bench outscored their opponents 40-5 and turned over the Friars 16 times to continue their national dominance in that area.
Russ Smith earned his Russdiculous moniker yet again with 23 points and a number of unexpected assists. On plays where the entire arena expected him to drive to the basket, he found the open man.
Coach Pitino said after the game that the defense is nowhere near where he wants it to be. He singled out Gorgui Dieng, Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear in particular but he also said that he's confident the guys will come around. Because of his time off with the wrist injury, the coach also says Dieng gets a pass.
All-America point guard Peyton Siva quietly had an excellent game with 10 points and 8 assists. Not so quietly because the entire arena has rooted for him to get it together, Luke Hancock finished with 11 points, including a couple of three pointers, and 8 rebounds.
The Cards go into action again next Wednesday at Seton Hall. Tip off is at 7pm.
Photos: Louisville.com/Tim Girton