LOUISVILLE — Party time is over for Louisville.
The ninth-ranked Cardinals — save for a hiccup against Western Kentucky two weeks ago — have rolled through the early season. Louisville's five wins have come by an average of 34 points, all of them coming at home against largely overmatched opponents.
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The somewhat cautious scheduling came, Coach Rick Pitino admits, by design. Knowing he needed time to get his team's five freshmen comfortable, the schedule was front-loaded with schools like South Alabama and Indiana State. Those teams, like the Cardinals, are trying to work in new faces.
The lopsided results allowed Pitino to give freshmen like Samardo Samuels and George Goode extended playing time, an investment Pitino hopes will pay off beginning on Saturday when the Cardinals (5-1) host Austin Peay (5-2).
"Starting with this game we knew these opponents would not only be very good but would be seasoned in terms of their execution," Pitino said. "This team has a lot of players back from last year's team and they're the most talented team we've played so far."
The Governors won the Ohio Valley Conference last year and are led by senior forward Drake Reed, a two-time All-OVC selection who is averaging 20.9 points and 7.9 rebounds. Reed's tenacity and intelligence — he's shooting a remarkable 58 percent from the floor — could be problematic for Louisville's young interior players.
Then again, that might be a good thing. Pitino wants his team to be tested before next week, when the Cardinals play neutral-site games against Mississippi in Cincinnati and Minnesota in Phoenix.
After being called out by Pitino earlier this season for their seeming inability to play with intensity during practice, Pitino praised both Goode and fellow freshman big man Terrence Jennings on Friday for their rapid improvement.
Both players have started challenging Samuels during drills and Pitino has rewarded them with playing time.
But the Louisville coach isn't completely happy with his team just yet.
"We're nowhere near our potential right now," Pitino said. "I would say we're not even close to it because we have six new players. It's just going to take some time for us to develop."