December 14, 2013
Cards top Western Kentucky, 79-63
The No. 6 ranked Louisville basketball team topped Western Kentucky 79-63 Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center in the 12th annual Billy Minardi Classic.
Senior guard Russ Smith led the way with 12 points and 10 assists, while the Cards received valuable contributions from several others.
With starting point guard Chris Jones sidelined, Louisville still had five players reach double figures in scoring.
In the frontcourt, Mangok Mathiang scored a career-high 13 rebounds, as Chane Behanan added 11 points and seven rebounds, earning the game's Most Valuable Player award.
In the backcourt, Terry Rozier started in Jones' place and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds. Walk-on Tim Henderson also came up big off the bench, scoring 12 points on 4-of-6 threes.
With 14 points on Saturday, senior guard Russ Smith became just the 26th player in Louisville history to surpass 1,400 career points. With 1,407 points overall, Smith is just six points behind Francisco Garcia (2002-05) in 25th place on the Cardinals' scoring leaderboard at 1,413 points.
This year's game was the 77th all-time between Louisville and Western Kentucky on the hardwood with the Cardinals trailing 39-38 overall. The series with WKU, which dates back to 1926, has the third most games played of any series for Louisville behind only the 97 games all-time with Cincinnati and the 87 games with Memphis.
Freshman center Mangok Mathiang scored a career-high 13 points on a perfect 5-for-5 from the field.
The Cardinals shot 69.2 percent (18-for-26) from the field in the second half on Saturday marking the second straight game they have finished at or above 69 percent from the field in a half.
Senior guard Tim Henderson scored a career-high 12 points on a career-best four three-pointers (on six attempts) while dishing out a career-high four assists in a season-high 22 minutes of action.
Junior forward Chane Behanan scored 11 points for the second time in the last three games after converting on five of his six attempts from the field. He also pulled down seven rebounds in his 24 minutes off the bench.
After holding a narrow three-point cushion at the half, Louisville opened the second half with a 14-5 run in the first 4:35 for the first double-digit lead of the game at 45-33 with 15:25 to go. The Hilltoppers cut the deficit to just six at 50-44 with 11:24 left in the game before the Cardinals used a decisive 13-0 run over a span of 4:58 (11:00 to 6:02) to push the lead to 63-44 with 6:02 to go.
Coach Rick Pitino's opening statement:
""Well, we needed this type of a basketball game where it was hard fought, possession type basketball. We knew what we were getting into. Certainly, they got a big lift from the players that came back. But we played really good defense in the second half. I thought Chane Behanan played a terrific game. It doesn't show a lot of times, statistically, what a player does, but he got people good shots with his passing. He got on the backboard. He did a lot of great things. He had a great week of practice and he certainly is very deserving of that MVP."
On Russ Smith at the point guard position:
"Russ did a very good job. I said this to the media before the game and this is not taking a shot at anybody else because my admiration for these guys is incredible.
I think Julius Randle up the street is a phenomenal basketball player. I think Jabari Parker is awesome and all of these guys are great. They really are great. But, Russ Smith is the premier player in the country.
And I say that - because everybody always wants something new - Russ Smith has been to back-to-back Final Four's, back-to-back BIG EAST championships, and he's won the national championship. Russ has improved his game where he had a negative assist-turnover; he's now a 2-to-1 assist-turnover (ratio). He's improved his shot selection and he's playing great basketball. And he's a point guard.
I always laugh when people say, 'Can he play point at the NBA level?' They play with a 16-second shot clock - they take eight seconds in the backcourt - and he's a great pick-and-roll guy. We like him to score. When he goes to the pros, he's got to change to whatever coach he plays for. So, until you knock the young man off of his throne, he's the premier player in college basketball. (It's a) biased opinion by me, but I think he is because he's made every change.
Two years ago, I needed him to carry the team on his back, he did. Now I need him to pass the basketball and take good shots; he does. Whatever you ask this young man to do, he's an awesome talent and I for one really appreciate everything he does for us. He had 10 assists tonight, 14 points. You know, he just does whatever the team asks. Two years ago it was, 'Russ you got to score; we can't score the ball, so you got to take over the game and score.' Now it's, 'Russ you've got to make guys better.' He does everything you ask of him."
Entering the week ranked fourth in the nation in fewest turnovers per game at 9.1, the Cardinals finished with only seven on Saturday, including just one in the second half (inside the final 15 seconds). Saturday marked the sixth time in 10 games this season Louisville has finished with nine or fewer turnovers in a game.
The turnstiles are going to be busy at the KFC Yum! Center this weekend. With Beyonce in concert on Thursday night, the UofL basketball game Saturday, and Justin Timberlake performing on Sunday, there will be more than 52,000 people at the arena during a four-day span.
Junior forward Wayne Blackshear earned his second straight double-figure scoring performance with 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting from the field, including a pair of three-pointers.
Peyton Siva's Dad was signing autographs in the tunnel after the game.
Freshman guard Terry Rozier pulled down a career-best 10 rebounds in his 25 minutes of action. His previous high for rebounds was five against Hofstra.
Playing its fourth season in the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville, the Cardinals improved to 58-7 all-time in the facility.
Missouri State Up Next
Louisville closes out a five-game home stand as the Cardinals face Missouri State in the KFC Yum! Center on Tuesday (Dec. 17, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
"We need all our fans Tuesday night. Missouri State can flat out play," said Pitino after the win over Western Kentucky. "It will be the best offensive team we will face this year outside of North Carolina. They are really terrific. I am hoping our fans who have to get to bed early, like horse trainers, will give their tickets to people who haven't seen us play. We need our fans Tuesday night. It is going to be a very tough ball game," he said.
Sophomore guard Marcus Marshall, the 2013 MVC Freshman of the Year, was named to the preseason All-MVC team; he has missed the last four games with a sprained left knee. Freshman guard Austin Ruder has hit 17-of-40 three-pointers this season.
Missouri State was picked fourth in the 10-team Missouri Valley Conference, a league in which UofL was member from 1964-75. Wichita State is the preseason pick to win the MVC.
Former UofL associate athletic director Kyle Moats is the director of athletics at Missouri State. MSU is 27th nationally in fewest turnovers per game (10.3).
Louisville won its only previous meeting against Missouri State 74-56 in the quarterfinals of the NIT in Freedom Hall on March 22, 2006 as Taquan Dean led the Cardinals with 26 points.
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