LOUISVILLE — Louisville center Samardo Samuels lifted all 265 pounds off the ground and extended his right hand toward Freedom Hall's ceiling.
Last season, the shot from Morgan State's Joe Davis might have made it over Samuels. That was 15 pounds ago.
Samuels swatted the shot to halfcourt, where teammate Rakeem Buckles collected it and slammed it home to help the 20th-ranked Cardinals hold off Morgan State 90-81 on Sunday.
"I've just been doing some drills, trying to get better," said Samuels, who finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.
So are the Cardinals (3-0), who showed a marked improvement against the Bears (3-1) after slogging their way through a lethargic win over East Tennessee State less than 24 hours earlier.
Louisville never trailed after the opening four minutes, though Morgan State was hardly a pushover. The defending MEAC champions pulled within 74-67 with 5:23 remaining before Louisville used a 10-2 burst — highlighted by Samuels' block — to put the game away.
"We are learning and getting better and it's baby steps with this team because we are extremely young and our older guys are not better defensive players and that is also a problem," Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said.
Still, Louisville managed to slow down Morgan State star Reggie Holmes. The senior guard came in averaging 25.3 points but was held to nine on 4-for-12 shooting.
"We wanted to take away (Holmes), who is one of the better scorers that we will see this season," Pitino said. "Our guys did a good job, not only getting him in foul trouble but holding him to nine points."
After going just 6-for-30 on three-pointers against East Tennessee State, the Cardinals decided to attack the basket against the Bears. Louisville put up just 12 threes against Morgan State, opting to get in the lane where the Cardinals either got an easy shot or were fouled.
Louisville made 33 of 41 from the line.
"When teams respect your shooting so much and they close out on you, you have to drive and dish," Pitino said. "Our guys realized the mistake they made the night before and corrected it."
Preston Knowles added 13 points, five rebounds and five assists for Louisville while Edgar Sosa had 12 points. The Cardinals showed plenty of balance, with 12 of the 13 players who saw the floor scoring at least one point.