LOUISVILLE — Louisville definitely knows how to christen a new arena.
Rick Pitino's Cards broke in the sparkling KFC Yum Center in devastating fashion, using relentless energy and a smothering defense to handle 16th-ranked Butler 88-73 Tuesday before an opening-night crowd of 22,753.
Louisville jumped on the Bulldogs early and was never seriously challenged. The Cardinals scored the game's first eight points, extended the lead to 18 by halftime and led by as many as 24 in the second half.
Louisville got a balanced scoring effort, led by sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds.
The 6-foot-9 Buckles looked like a completely different player after an inconsistent freshman season. He put in work down low, showed a much-improved floor game and went 2-for-4 from beyond the three-point line. Center Terrence Jennings supported Buckles with 13 points and eight rebounds. Guards Preston Knowles, Mike Marra and Peyton Siva added 12, 11 and nine points, respectively.
Marra had perhaps the highlight of the night when he blocked a Shelvin Mack three-pointer from behind in the first half and then sank a three on the other end to put U of L up 21-12. After a Mack jumper brought the Bulldogs to within eight (27-19), Louisville closed the half on a 16-4 run to take a 41-23 halftime lead.
And with all due credit to the Cards, Butler, a loser to Duke in the NCAA championship game last season, looked extremely ordinary.
Mack, a product of Bryan Station High School, was the only Bulldog who did much of anything early. He scored 17 of Butler's 23 first-half points and was 5-for-11 from the floor in the first period while the rest of the team went 2-for-19.
Butler's cause wasn't helped by the fact that its top big man, Matt Howard, played just four first-half minutes after picking up three fouls.
Butler's comeback hopes were crippled when Mack missed more than 10 minutes in the second half with cramps. Mack did return with seven minutes remaining and sank a three to bring Butler to within 11 (61-50) with 6:34 remaining, but that was as close as the Bulldogs got despite fouling until the bitter end to try to narrow the gap. The foul fest resulted in 59 personals, and the teams combined to shoot 79 free throws.
Mack finished with 25 points, tying a career high, and Howard scored 21 of his 23 in the second half.
The Cardinals might have a chance to go on a run because they play nine straight non-conference games in the KFC Yum Center before a Dec. 22 trip to Western Kentucky.