LOUISVILLE — Rick Pitino can always count on his neighbors at Georgetown College to give him a good barometer of where his team is early in the year.
The fact that the Cardinals are still searching for an identity after losing do-it-all forwards Terrence Williams and Earl Clark to the NBA added even more intrigue to the season-opening exhibition game.
Happy Osborne's club has made a habit of pushing the Cards to the limit. U of L eked out a 94-92 win in 2006, and last year, before losing 74-67, the Tigers threw a scare into a Cardinals team that ultimately won the Big East regular season and conference tournament and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
True to form, the Tigers made the 'Ville sweat again Wednesday and took a four-point lead into halftime before the Cards went on a late second-half run to post an 80-68 win.
Pitino said he's come to expect a slugfest whenever his team hooks up with Georgetown.
"Georgetown, they're very physical," Pitino said. "The way they play is the way the Big East plays, except the Big East has more size. They always give us a great battle. That's what we want from an exhibition game. When you win by 50 or 60, it doesn't do anything at all. Every year we've had to win this game on heart, not execution."
Center Samardo Samuels carried Louisville much of the way. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound sophomore did what he wanted against the smaller Tigers' front line, finishing with a game-high 20 points and 11 rebounds. Early on, though, Louisville had the look of a team that had practiced only eight days. In the first half, the Cards shot just 32.3 percent from the field, were 3-for-10 on three-pointers and 8-for-15 from the free-throw line. Georgetown led by as many as nine (31-22) in the first half, but Edgar Sosa's three at the horn brought the score to 35-31.
The early part of the second half was all Samuels. His putback from point-blank range gave the Cards their first lead of the second half, 43-41 with 14:25 remaining.
The Tigers managed to hang tough for a while, as Scott County graduate Matt Walls drained back-to-back threes to reclaim the lead for Georgetown, 49-47.
Louisville's game-changing run was sparked by freshman guard Peyton Siva and sophomore forward Kyle Kuric, who provided plenty of energy off the bench. Siva, a 2009 McDonald's All-American, delivered six points, eight assists and seven steals in his Freedom Hall debut. The only negative in Siva's stat line was seven turnovers.
"He's been turning it over too much, but you've got to give him his due," Pitino said of Siva. "He plays so hard and wants to make plays, so you can't try to harness him. He's going to be a great player someday, one of the best I've coached."
Kuric, who played a total of 93 minutes last season, provided a somewhat unexpected lift with 15 points, seven rebounds and three steals. He came up with a steal and gave it up to Siva before getting it back for a dunk to put U of L up 55-53 at 7:54. Kuric then returned the favor by dropping a dime to Siva for another layup to make it 57-53, and then Siva flipped a pass over his shoulder to Kuric for another easy bucket to push the lead to 61-56 at 6:29. A Sosa three at 4:52 made it 66-58 and proved to be the knockout blow.
Kuric "is really making me happy," Pitino said. "It's great to have guys like T-Will and Clark who are lottery picks, but guys like (Kuric) grow and develop. It's fun for the fans to watch. Of the fans here tonight, I bet 15,000 of them didn't think Kyle could play. But they're leaving here saying, 'Boy, he's pretty good.' "
The game had very little flow to it. Sixty fouls were called, and 72 free throws were attempted. Osborne noted that his team missed 19 of its 41 foul shots.
"We make our foul shots, we're right there," Osborne said. "When Georgetown and Louisville play early, it's gonna be ugly. Ugly, but fun."
louisville 80, georgetown 68
GEORGETOWN — Moses 4-8 1-3 9, Crutcher 3-10 1-3 10, Pearson 1-4 1-2 3, Hamilton 1-2 4-8 6, Saxton 3-7 1-3 8, Gray 1-3 6-8 0, Walls 2-8 2-3 8, Byron 2-3 2-3 6, Ferguson 1-7 2-2 5, Outen 1-5 2-6 4. Totals 19-57 22-41 68.
LOUISVILLE — Delk 0-1 2-3 2, Swopshire 1-2 4-6 6, Samuels 9-12 2-4 20, Sosa 3-10 4-6 12, Smith 1-4 2-2 4, Knowles 1-5 0-0 2, Siva 0-3 2-2 2, Kuric 6-11 2-2 15, Goode 1-1 0-0 2, Jennings 3-4 0-0 6, Marra 1-4 0-2 3. Totals 27-62 22-31 80.
Halftime—Georgetown 35-31. Three-point goals—Georgetown 8-21 (Crutcher 3-7, Walls 2-3, Gray 1-1, Ferguson 1-2, Saxton 1-4, Moses 0-1, Byron 0-1), Louisville 4-20 (Sosa 2-5, Marra 1-4, Kuric 1-5, Smith 0-2, Knowles 0-2, Siva 0-2). Rebounds—Georgetown 38 (Outen 7), Louisville 50 (Samuels 11). Assists—Georgetown 13 (Hamilton 4), Louisville 21 (Siva 8). Fouled out—Crutcher, Gray. Total fouls—Georgetown 27, Louisville 33. Turnovers—Georgetown 20, Louisville 21. A—17.184.