CINCINNATI (AP)—With a solid road victory, No. 7 Louisville got back into its coach’s good graces and earned the Cardinals a chance to get their snazzy practice gear back, too.
Given how things are going these days, they may not want it.
Terrence Williams scored 20 points on Saturday, and the Cardinals dominated up front in a 72-63 victory over Cincinnati that went a long way in fixing their recent problems.
Louisville (21-5, 12-2 Big East) has been smarting from a 33-point loss to Notre Dame on Feb. 12 that prompted coach Rick Pitino to confiscate their practice gear with team logos. They have won three straight since, the latest ranking as the best of the bunch since they started practicing in plain, humbling duds.
“I think our passing has gotten better,” Pitino said. “We made some excellent passes. We executed great against their fullcourt pressure. We just played a terrific game.”
The best came from Williams, who was hobbled by a sprained right wrist for three games. In the last two, he appeared to be back to normal, scoring 17 and 20 on Saturday. Against Cincinnati (17-10, 7-7), he scored from everywhere on the court, had eight rebounds and five assists, and started a decisive 12-2 run in the second half.
“I played three games in a row and T-Will was not being himself because of being hurt,” Williams said. “I feel I’m back on track as far as playing well in the offense.”
Pitino purged the locker room of all Louisville-stamped practice gear following that stunning loss to Notre Dame. Instead of their snazzy white-and-red practice jerseys, the Cardinals were consigned to bottom-shelf apparel—plain shirts and shorts. Why, Pitino even took away their Adidas socks.
When would they get them back? When they beat somebody on the road. After dominant wins over DePaul and Providence at Freedom Hall, the Cardinals hit the road on Saturday and earned the right to look good again—if they choose.
“We were talking about that,” said Preston Knowles, who added 11 points. “I think we want to keep those (plain) T-shirts. They’ll keep us focused.”
Pitino, dressed nattily in a dark suit, blue shirt and red checkered tie, got more worked up as his team frittered away chances to take control in the first half. The Cardinals led by as many as seven points, but gave the ball away on four of five possessions during one stretch, allowing Cincinnati to keep it close.
There were five ties and six lead changes in the half, which ended with Louisville up 37-34. Louisville opened the second half with a driving layup by Earl Clark and a dunk by Samardo Samuels, an indication that its front line was about to take over the game.
The 6-foot-8 Samuels provided a tone-setting moment with 13 minutes to go when he shook loose inside for a basket and drew a foul. Samuels missed the free throw, but Louisville got the rebound and went right back to Samuels, who missed a shot, got the rebound in a crowd and put it in for a 51-45 lead.
Williams had a putback and a 3-pointer that stretched the lead to 60-51 with 8:37 to go, starting the decisive 12-3 spurt. A 3-pointer by Knowles finished the run and made it 67-54.
Louisville had a 38-27 advantage on the boards, with 17 offensive rebounds that set up 19 points.
“It’s one thing to keep them off the glass, but it’s another thing for you to get on the glass,” Pitino said. “We really made a concentrated effort to get on the offensive glass harder than we had all season.”
Louisville’s frontline domination went beyond rebounds. Cincinnati shot only two free throws all game, an indication the Bearcats were afraid to take it inside. Alvin Mitchell led Cincinnati with 14 points. The Bearcats took nearly half of their shots—27 of 58—from behind the arc.
“We’re culpable because of our lack of strength around the rim,” coach Mick Cronin said.
The Bearcats also made a fashion statement, wearing special red uniforms for the second time this season. Their first time in all red produced a double-digit loss to crosstown rival Xavier.
That’s been a season-long pattern for the Bearcats, who entered the discussion of possible NCAA tournament teams by winning five of their last seven games. The Bearcats didn’t have a bad loss along the way, but didn’t have a signature win, either. Their only win over a ranked team came over a Georgetown team that’s been in a free-fall.
Given the way they were dominated on the boards, their chances took another big hit.
“If that doesn’t change, we’ll lose five of our last five,” Cronin said. “I’m sure you can assess our chances if that happens.”