LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—Rick Pitino said his team’s problems weren’t something a little psychology couldn’t fix.
Consider the doctor in.
Terrence Williams had 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists and Samardo Samuels added 17 points and 11 boards as No. 19 Louisville and its revamped lineup eased by UAB 82-62 on Saturday.
Pitino promised changes after watching the Cardinals struggle in a loss to Minnesota last weekend, saying his veterans needed to stop coasting. He delivered by benching star junior Earl Clark in favor of freshman Jared Swopshire and starting sophomore Preston Knowles over senior Andre McGee at the point.
Each move worked brilliantly. Swopshire and Knowles combined for 16 points in 34 energetic minutes, McGee had a season-high 13 points and Clark had 12 points, four blocks and three assists off the bench.
“I think we’ll stay with it,” Pitino said.
The way the Cardinals responded to Pitino’s challenge, he should.
“Coach P is a mastermind at changing it around,” Samuels said. “He’s going to get guys in there that need to be in there. Guys that come (off the bench), they need to prove themselves.”
It was an unusual position for Clark. The power forward bypassed the NBA to return for his junior year and has arguably been Louisville’s most consistent player.
Yet Pitino was looking to send a message, and Clark said he wasn’t surprised when he found out himself out of the starting lineup for the first time this season.
“This is nothing new to me,” Clark said. “I can be a spark off the bench. When I came in (before the game), he has the (starters’) names up on the board and mine wasn’t in there. It wasn’t a shock.”
Clark seemed to take the demotion well, applauding when Swopshire hit an early layup and he received a modest ovation when he entered about five minutes in. Clark had trouble early, turning it over the first time he touched the ball, but quickly went to work defensively, getting a block on one end then coming down and finishing with a layup at the other.
Robert Vaden led UAB (8-4) with 22 points, Lawrence Kinnard had 19 points and eight rebounds and Paul Delaney III added 16 points and four assists for the Blazers.
Vaden, who scored a career-high 33 points at Freedom Hall last year in a neutral site win over Kentucky, got off to another hot start. He knocked down three 3-pointers in the first seven minutes but eventually cooled as Louisville wore him down by throwing body after body at him.
“He just got tired, I played him too long,” UAB coach Mike Davis said of Vaden. “I just didn’t have anybody to sub to get him a minute of two. This basketball team, they just made runs, they make runs. So it was hard to sub.”
Clark, Williams, McGee, Swopshire and Jerry Smith all got a turn at trying to slow Vaden down and it worked, eventually. Vaden hit three of his first four 3-pointers but made just one of his last eight.
“Vaden is a great player, he shoots the ball so well from everywhere,” Williams said. “As soon as he crossed midcourt we’d yell ‘Shooter, Shooter.’ We moved our zone in more and talked and then we ran at him.”
UAB hung around for awhile before the Cardinals took control late in the first half against their former Conference USA rival. Samuels hit a layup to start a 10-2 run to end the half, a run that was capped by an emphatic dunk by Williams, who faked a 3-pointer then drove down the middle of the lane for the jam to help Louisville to a 37-28 lead at the break.
The Cardinals opened the second half with another 8-2 burst fueled by back-to-back 3-pointers Knowles and Williams to push Louisville’s lead to 45-30.
UAB collected itself but could never get the stops necessary to get back in the game. Whenever the Blazers seemed poised to make a run, Louisville would come down and get a putback or a 3-pointer.
Delaney hit a nifty runner to pull UAB to 64-53 with 6:16 to go, but Samuels collected an offensive rebound and got fouled. He made the first free throw and missed the second. No biggie. Clark swooped in and grabbed the ball and threw in a layup to push it back to 14. Samuels dropped in a putback on Louisville’s next possession and when Clark hit a jumper from the right elbow, Louisville led 71-56 and sent some of the fans inside the steamy arena heading for the exits.
“We may have taken challenged shots, I don’t know,” Williams said. “But Samardo or Earl or somebody erased it with an offensive rebound. That’s when we broke it open, with our offensive rebounding and guys stepping in and making shots.”
Louisville held a 40-26 rebounding edge and had 16 second-chance points. UAB’s woes at the free-throw line didn’t help. UAB went just 3-of-11 at the line and turned it over 16 times, including five by Vaden.