LOUISVILLE — Louisville rebounded from an embarrassing loss to Western Kentucky last season to gain the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the WKU toe-stub still stuck in the craw of the returning players.
"It was a tough loss, but it was like it never really died down," Cardinals guard Jerry Smith said. "We just kept hearing and hearing about it."
Said junior guard Preston Knowles, "I heard about it the most because I'm from Kentucky, and I heard about it all summer. I didn't really see the (Western) players much, but a couple of people would come back and tell me stuff they were saying."
The Cardinals had the last word Saturday, however. They delivered a resounding 102-75 whipping in the Billy Minardi Classic at Freedom Hall.
Louisville's full-court press was suffocating for the second straight game as the Cardinals scored 36 points off 25 Western turnovers. They forced Oral Roberts into 22 miscues in a 94-57 win on Wednesday.
U of L also shot more than 50 percent for the second straight game, hitting 35-for-63 (55.6 percent).
The Cardinals were so impressive that Coach Rick Pitino gave them a rare semester-break day off. The team had been practicing twice a day for the past week.
"You'd have thought we'd won our first championship," Pitino said about telling his players about the day off. "I'm really proud of our performance. We were aggressive offensively and, when you shoot a high percentage, it allows you to get your press on more."
Western was within 28-24 after Steffphon Pettigrew hit a three-pointer with 5:48 left in the first half, but Louisville blew open the game with a 13-1 run. Western threw the ball away on three straight possessions that resulted in a Jared Swopshire layup and an Edgar Sosa dunk. WKU's Cliff Dixon then misfired on an off-balance turnaround jumper, and Sosa hit a pull-up jumper in transition while being fouled. Sosa's three-point play pushed the lead to 41-25. The Cardinals led 45-30 at halftime, and that grew to as many as 31 in the second half.
Sosa and Smith each scored 17 to lead five Cardinals in double figures. Samardo Samuels added 14 points and nine rebounds.
Pitino said he has scrapped his zone presses in favor of extensive periods of more man-to-man, full-court pressure for the first time since 1997.
"We've got a lot of young players, and I think the man-to-man (press) creates a lot less confusion," Knowles said. "Last year, we had guys like 'T-Will' (Terrence Williams), Earl (Clark) and Andre McGee, and they had been in the system for a while."
Pettigrew led Western with 23 points and nine rebounds, and A.J. Slaughter added 16 points. But WKU Coach Ken McDonald said his team was too passive with the ball against Louisville's pressure.
"We just didn't deliver the ball when we needed to deliver the ball," McDonald said. "They are the type of team that can go on runs, and we knew that. That one run ... to end the half really hurt us confidence-wise. They're a typical Coach Pitino team; they kept getting more aggressive and, as we stayed passive, they got more aggressive."
Western caught a bad break when leading rebounder and second-leading scorer Sergio Kerusch suffered a leg injury on Friday night. McDonald said Kerusch is expected to be out six to eight weeks.
"We definitely missed him, but we're not going to use that as an excuse," McDonald said. "We just didn't produce, and that's the bottom line."