Louisville came out of the tunnel looking sharper than ever with a 17-2 opening run at Rutgers. Yet after the 12-minute mark in the first half, the Cardinals lost their luster. Preston Knowles was on fire in the first half, shooting three for four behind the arc. He also led the team 14 points, eight rebounds, and five steals.
U of L won in Piscataway, 55-37, to go to 10-5 in the Big East and 21-7 overall.
In the second half the Cards came out with no intensity. Rutgers had a chance to make it a game after Louisville missed 10 of its first 12 shots. The Scarlet Knights came within nine of the Cardinals but then fell behind again. U of L only scored an abysmal six points in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
The Cardinal defense continued to be the key in another late Big East match-ups. Coach Rick Pitino said after the game that “the defense had been great since we got the bench back.” Pitino said that continued defensive success would be crucial in the NCAA tournament and that he was proud of his players’ performance.
The Cardinals forced 18 turnovers and defense proved key when the shots weren’t falling. “There are going to be games where you don’t shoot well where defense is key,” said Pitino. While some worry still remains with the sudden drop off in shooting in the first half, having defense as another pillar for Louisville will prove useful in games to come.
Another bright spot was a promising outing from Mike Marra, who has been disappointing of late and hasn’t played well since the loss at Notre Dame. Marra made his first three from downtown, but then missed his last three, finishing with nine points. Marra continues to be tremendously streaky. If he makes his first shot its going to be a great game for him. If he doesn’t, don’t expect much.
Now the Cardinals have the fourth-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers coming to the KFC Yum! Center on Sunday. The fans have been asked to white out, and there is no doubt that Pitino will be sporting his classic white Armani suit. Louisville has won three of the last four white-outs, and the Cards will be banking on that magic transferring to the Bucket in its first white-out.