LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—Rick Pitino wasn’t looking for perfection during Louisville’s run through the Hall of Fame Showcase.
Good thing, because he didn’t get it. Not that he particularly cared after the 16th-ranked Cardinals completed a three-game sweep in the round-robin event with an 80-53 win over Appalachian State on Monday night.
For a team still searching for an identity after the departure of stars Earl Clark and Terrence Williams, winning convincingly while playing its third game in barely 48 hours will do.
“I think we had to get three wins, which we did,” Pitino said after the Cardinals improved to 4-0. “This was a good basketball team we played, I think we just wore them down.”
Samardo Samuels led a balanced attack with 16 points and Edgar Sosa and Preston Knowles added 11 points each for the Cardinals, who can complete their second undefeated November in Pitino’s nine seasons with a win over UNLV on Saturday.
“It was a confidence booster for a lot of guys,” Samuels said. “A lot of guys got to play and they can take a lot from that and mature. Every one that came in was a contributor. That’s going to be big for us.”
Freshman Rakeem Buckles added six points and 10 rebounds for the Cardinals, who pulled away in the second half.
“We’ve got so many weapons, it’s really hard for teams to play against us,” Louisville guard Peyton Siva said. “Out of the three games, we found out a lot about our weaknesses.”
The Mountaineers exposed one of them in the first half, knocking down several 3-pointers early, forcing Pitino to abandon the 2-3 zone defense that was a staple of last year’s Big East championship team.
Donald Sims led Appalachian State (2-3) with 19 points and Jeremi Booth had 14, but the Mountaineers couldn’t keep pace when the Cardinals turned up the defensive pressure after halftime.
“They were just too much for us,” Appalachian State coach Buzz Peterson said.
Louisville led 39-30 at halftime but slowly pulled away thanks to major contributions from role players like Buckles and Reggie Delk, who made two 3-pointers during a 17-7 run that put the Cardinals up 68-44 midway through the half.
The Cardinals used their distinct size advantage and superior depth to get off to their best start since 2005-06, when they opened 6-0.
That team was rebuilding coming off a Final Four appearance, and the Cardinals quickly faded as the season wore on and missed the NCAA tournament.
Pitino has decidedly higher expectations this year, but will need more of selfless play the Cardinals showcased in the second half.
Siva hit a 3-pointer to get Louisville going, Samuels added a hook shot and Sosa rolled in a layup as part of a 10-2 run to put the Cardinals up 49-32. Appalachian State managed to get it back to 12 points but couldn’t withstand the constant wave of players Pitino sent onto the court.
All 14 Louisville players entered the game and 11 of them scored.
“I don’t think these guys worry about who the stars will be,” Pitino said. “One night it will be Samardo and then another night somebody else. It doesn’t matter to them.”
Delk, the nephew of former Kentucky star Tony Delk, continued his strong start to the season with eight points. Buckles, considered a project of sorts, helped Louisville outrebound the Mountaineers 37-26 and outscore them 30-6 in the paint.
By the time Kyle Kuric stepped in front of a pass and swooped in for a dunk, the Cardinals led 68-44 for their most decisive victory of the weekend.
Pitino had criticized his team for somewhat lethargic play in wins over East Tennessee State and Morgan State, but the Cardinals were crisp during the final 20 minutes of their three-day run.
Louisville held the Mountaineers to 32 percent shooting in the second half while forcing 11 turnovers.
“Our defense and our intensity picked up,” Siva said. “You could see it in the crowd, they got restless and then we picked it up.”