Russ Smith's 23 points led No. 2 Louisville Cardinals to a 79-51 season-opening win over Manhattan Sunday at the KFC Yum Center in Louisville. The junior shooting guard hit four threes.
"Russ is tremendous because he is unguardable," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "Russ was the key to the team last year. If you take him out of the lineup we don't go win the Big East Championship and we don't go to the Final Four."
As good as Smith was, Louisville's defense was the real story. The Cardinals finished lasts eason No. 6 in the nation in field goal percentage defense. They picked up right where they left off, as Manhattan missing nine of their first 10 shots and finished the first half with 15 turnovers.
Manhattan coach Steve Masiello was a longtime assistant coach under Pitino at Louisville. He also played for Pitino at Kentucky. Prior to Sunday's game, Masiello was quoted as saying Louisville's lineup resembled an NBA team.
"Well, that was a homecoming," Masiello said after the game. Later adding, "Louisville was better than us today and they will be better than us, and a lot of teams."
Manhattan was without star swingman George Beamon, who averaged 19 points per game last season.
"This was very good for us, but they were without their best player in this game," Pitino said.
The Cardinals weren't quite that impressive, but they did hold a double-digit lead for most of the second half. Louisville was up 12-3 at the 10 minute mark, and the margin was still nine at the half, 28-19, despite starting center Gorgui Dieng playing just three minutes due to foul trouble.
Louisville broke the game open at the start of the second half, scoring 12 of the first 16 points to build a 40-23 lead at the 15:24 mark. Dieng re-entered the game in a big way, scoring seven points in the first 4:36 of the second half.
A jumper by Manhattan's Donovan Kates cut Louisville's lead to 45-32 with 11:55 left, but the Cardinals responded with threes from Luke Hancock and Kevin Ware to push the margin to 19. The Jaspers would get no closer than 15 the rest of the way.
In addition to Smith's 23 points, Peyton Siva had 10 points and 10 assists, Kevin Ware had 10 points and three other players scored at least eight points. Manhattan was led by power forward Rhamel Brown who had 18 points and 15 rebounds.
Louisville held Manhattan to 35.7 percent shooting (15 of 42). The Cardinals hit 51.4 percent of their shots in the second half and finished 45.2 percent for the game.
Pitino said there were a few things he wants to see improve after the first game - rebounding and three-point shooting. The Cardinals got out-rebounded 37-33 and hit just 8 of 30 three-point attempts.
"I think they are open," Pitino said of the three point shooting. "I think they were all wide open.... We just have to make them."