When the 5th ranked University of Louisville Cardinals (11-1) traveled to Nashville to take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, the game was said to be at a neutral arena, but it was clearly hostile territory for the Cards since it’s only 100 miles away from Bowling Green. Nonetheless, Louisville's relentless pressure provided an aspect of the game that the Toppers couldn't answer en route to the 78-55 win.
Before the game, WKU coach Ray Harper told his team that if Louisville can't score, they can't set up the press, so Western had the right idea they just didn't get it done because the Cards scored and pressed at will going on a 19-2 run in the first half to break the game open.
The Zach-Price-as-starter experiment ended mercifully as Stephen Van Treese stepped in at the starting center position as the Card Nation prepares for the forthcoming return of Gorgui Dieng. Van Treese intimidated on the defensive end so the low block stayed unavailable for the Hilltoppers post players.
The Cards went to the locker room up 40-22 and feeling comfortable. Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell all scored 9 first half points to lead the balanced attack. Defensively, the Cards shined as well, turning the Toppers 12 times in the first half and holding them to 29.6% shooting.
Louisville lost some intensity in the second half due in part to some foul trouble from Peyton Siva and the continued cold shooting from Luke Hancock. He has such little confidence in his shot, he rarely ever takes them anymore.
When WKU made their push, the Cards maintained their composure, even when Siva committed his 4th personal with 7:54 left. Even with the victory, coach Rick Pitino found some things to work on before the Kentucky game. Chief among those things is complacency. When the Cards were cruising, the Hilltoppers could make inroads. That can’t happen when they go to Big East conference play.
When Siva fouled out, there were still 4 minutes on the clock. The Toppers pressed. The Cardinals answered to close out the game, thanks to the late play of Russ Smith handling the ball and shooting. Smith finished with 20 points, 11 of them from the free throw line. Blackshear was right behind him with 17. At the end of the game, the entire arena found something to agree on when they chanted, "Beat UK."
The next Louisville game comes to the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday, December 29th when those Kentucky Wildcats come calling.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton