LOUISVILLE — For a kid whose prep rep carried a me-first rap sheet, Preston Knowles has made the transition into quite the different college player.
"It's not about me," the former Clark County star was saying Wednesday night. "It's about the team."
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But then maybe that's because Knowles is such an important part of the team.
As a former two-star prospect whose high school immaturity had all but reduced his next-level prospects to mid-majors before Louisville rolled the dice, the 6-foot-2 guard from Winchester has needed but a season and a half to earn a starting spot on Rick Pitino's talented if confusing Cardinals.
Yes, the Cards got caught flat-footed on New Year's Eve by a visiting UNLV sans its leading scorer, Wink Adams. But don't place the 56-55 loss on U of L's No. 2.
Making his second straight start, and third of the season, the sophomore was 4-for-10 from the floor, but a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point range, while entering the contest seventh in the Big East in three-point accuracy at 42.4 percent.
Five straight Knowles points, three on a triple, helped the Cards carve the Rebels' lead to 38-32 with 14:39 remaining. Then Knowles drained another three, with 5:09 remaining, to pull the 18th-ranked hosts to within a point, 47-46, of Lon Kruger's club.
"He played well," Pitino said. "He hit some big shots. Especially when you're struggling and nothing's going well for you it's even bigger to make those shots."
Alas, even after Louisville snatched the lead, the Cards kicked away the advantage and the game. And Knowles was not without blame. After his early second-half spurt, the guard grew shot-happy, forcing a drive to the bucket that was forcefully rejected by a rising Rebel, then missing two quick-trigger jumpers on the same possession.
"Three of the shots that I took were kind of ill-advised," Knowles admitted. "So I tried to get back on defense, because Coach says if you take a bad shot, you get it back on defense."
Fact is, Knowles is where he is because of his discipline and his defense. That might come as a surprise to those who remember Knowles testing the patience of his high school coach, Scott Humphrey, or being sent home before the Kentucky-Indiana All-Star game because of a curfew violation.
But there was the feeling that a good coach for Knowles would be the hard-driving, no-nonsense Pitino, who demands effort at both ends of the floor.
"Being up here, I have to play defense if I want to play," Knowles said. "I came in here being an offensive threat, but we already had too many offensive people, especially great guards, so I had to pick it up in a different area, so I had to pick it up on defense."
Indeed, though Knowles scored a career-high 21 points off the bench inU of L's win over Austin Peay, Pitino credited defense for the sophomore's catapult to starter.
"I think Andre (McGee) and Preston play great defense. They get after it, they give you 100 percent," Pitino said. "We've got to get Jerry (Smith) and Edgar (Sosa) to play that kind of defense as well and not get beat off the dribble as much."
"I take a lot of pride because personally I don't like just anybody scoring on me," Knowles said on Wednesday. "I take that very personal. I try to thrive on that."
He also takes pride in his team, and 8-3 is not where the nation's pre-season No. 3 expected to be heading into Sunday's clash with Kentucky.
"I don't really care about the rivalry; it doesn't mean that much to me," Knowles said on Wednesday. "We just need to win. This team needs to win."