LOUISVILLE — Strong second-half defense and a yeoman's effort off the bench by Chane Behanan helped No. 6 Louisville win Saturday's 12th annual Billy Minardi Classic in the KFC Yum Center.
The sixth-ranked Cardinals threw a 13-0 knockout punch en route to beating Western Kentucky 79-63.
"We needed this type of a basketball game where it was hard-fought, possession-type basketball," U of L Coach Rick Pitino said. "We knew what we were getting into.
"We played really good defense in the second half, and I thought Chane Behanan played a terrific game. It doesn't show a lot of times statistically what a player does. But he got people good shots with his passing, he got on the backboard, he did a lot of great things."
Behanan, named the game's most valuable player, finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes of action.
The Cards (9-1) had four other double-digit scorers.
Russ Smith, whom Pitino dubbed "the premier player in the country," led the way with 14 points. His 10 assists matched Western Kentucky's team total.
Mangok Mathiang had 13 points, while Wayne Blackshear and Tim Henderson scored 12 each.
Terry Rozier, starting in place of injured Chris Jones (sprained right wrist), had four points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
The Cards took care of the basketball, too, with six of only seven turnovers coming in the first half.
Western controlled the boards in the early going, but wound up getting outrebounded 39-35, and outscored 36-14 in the paint.
"A lot of our big men do their job boxing out, but a lot of guards don't go down there and help them out," Rozier said. "So I just want to do what I can to get rebounds — and Russ, we all want to help out. If we all commit, especially on the defensive boards, we'll be pretty fine."
Western Kentucky (5-4) was led by T.J. Price with 22 points. Chris Harrison-Docks, in his first game of eligibility since transferring from Butler, scored 10 points.
"They got out in transition in the second half," Hilltoppers Coach Ray Harper said. "I thought, first half, we did a good job of keeping the pace a little slower. Second half, I thought they dictated pace and got out and got some easy buckets."
The change of pace bumped U of L's shooting efficiency from 36.4 percent (12-for-33) in the first half to 69.2 percent (18-for-26) in the second half.
Blackshear hit back-to-back three-pointers to end the first half and give U of L a 31-28 lead.
"My teammates, they did a great job of finding me," Blackshear said. "I was able to knock them down."
The Cards finished 9-for-20 from long distance, converting a season-high 45 percent. Henderson scored all his points from beyond the arc, going 4-for-6.
The Cards picked up their defensive effort after intermission and quickly opened a 45-33 lead.
Western halved that deficit to 50-44 before U of L blew the game open.
A Behanan dunk, set up by a Henderson dish, triggered a 13-0 run. Western did not score for nearly six minutes.
"At times we didn't reverse the ball." Harper said. "Some of it was due to their defense, but at times we hurried. The one thing we thought we couldn't do against this basketball team was take early shots in a possession. We needed to be patient. I thought we did that the first half."
Behanan added two more fast-break baskets during the decisive flurry. Rozier also had a pair of baskets, Mathiang scored a layup and Montrezl Harrell hit a free throw.
Western never came closer than 15 points after that.
Louisville — Tuesday vs. Missouri State, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Western Kentucky — Wednesday vs. Southern Mississippi, 8 p.m. (ESPN3)
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229.Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL.Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com