LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—Samardo Samuels says he isn’t about to let his talent go to his head. Just in case, Louisville coach Rick Pitino is doing his best to keep the freshman star’s ego under wraps.
Shortly after Samuels polished off a nearly perfect 24-point night with a dunk in the third-ranked Cardinals’ 81-54 victory over South Alabama in the Billy Minardi Classic on Sunday, Pitino made sure to remind Samuels all the things he doesn’t do so well.
Even if the list is pretty short at the moment.
“He’s maybe the best freshman I’ve ever coached, but he doesn’t rebound, he doesn’t play defense,” Pitino said.
It’s a sentiment Samuels doesn’t take personally, even if he did have five rebounds and three blocks while going 9-of-10 from the field in just his second college game.
“Coach is pretty good with those mind games,” Samuels said. “His way of motivating is a little different than other coaches, but he gets the job done.”
Whatever Pitino is doing, it’s working for the Cardinals (2-0). Louisville capped a perfect opening weekend by playing the kind of defense Pitino knows the Cardinals will need when Big East play begins in six weeks. Louisville forced South Alabama (2-2) into 24 turnovers and held the Jaguars to 36 percent shooting.
“In all phases of defense, you like to see guys play as intense as that,” Pitino said. “All of our guys did a terrific job at defensive end.”
The offense simply took care of itself, with Samuels leading the way for the second straight night. He hit his first eight shots from the field—all of them either dunks or layups in traffic—and opened things up for his teammates when the Jaguars double-teamed him.
Terrence Williams had 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, and Earl Clark added 12 points and five rebounds for the Cardinals, who had 24 assists on 31 field goals.
“You can’t just focus on one person,” guard Andre McGee said. “You try to focus on Samardo, and somebody is going to hit it from the outside or Earl is flashing to the middle or we got T-Will on the wing and shooters coming in from off the bench.”
Brandon Davis led South Alabama with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Domonic Tilford added 16 points, but the Jaguars were no match for Louisville’s size or depth. Eleven Cardinals played and all but two scored.
Louisville’s relentless pressure made a believer out of South Alabama coach Ronnie Arrow.
“I was reading (Pitino’s) book last week and he said you’ve got to be positive, and with a team like that, it’s easy to be positive,” Arrow said. “I’d like to see them play North Carolina right now, but that’s probably going to be real late in the season.”
Louisville never trailed but needed a while to put away South Alabama. Tilford hit a fadeaway that pulled the Jaguars within 39-31 less than 2 minutes into the second half, but the Cardinals responded with a 22-5 run. McGee got it going with a 3-pointer and Samuels finished it with a pair of free throws that pushed the lead to 61-36 with 10:15 remaining.
Samuels, who’d been chastised by Williams during an open practice earlier in the week for not passing the ball enough, had three assists. The best was a nifty bounce pass to Williams that the senior turned into a dunk. Samuels showed a little aggressiveness defensively, blocking a dunk attempt by South Alabama’s Ronald Douglas.
Samuels’ hopes for a perfect night from the field, however, ended when Davis stuffed him while going up for a dunk with the Cardinals up 24. No biggie. Samuels finished his night with one more jam and walked off to a standing ovation after a sparkling debut at Freedom Hall.
The highly touted freshman said he had some jitters in his college debut on Saturday, getting off to a slow start before Louisville pulled away from Morehead State. He had no such problems against the Jaguars. Samuels hit a layup on Louisville’s first possession, then dunked on DeAndre’ Coleman on Louisville’s next trip. Even better for the Cardinals? He made the free throw.