University of Louisville

Russ Smith leads balanced Louisville past Memphis 95-87

Louisville's Russ Smith looked to pass against Duke in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Duke won 76-71.
Louisville's Russ Smith looked to pass against Duke in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Duke won 76-71.

LOUISVILLE — With seven players in double digits accounting for all its points, No. 4 Louisville ran its record to 10-0 by holding off Memphis 95-87 in Saturday's Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout.

The Cardinals, off to their best start since 1996-97, are three wins shy of the school record to open a season. U of L has started 13-0 three times, most recently in 1974.

Memphis didn't go quietly, rallying from a second-half deficit of 13 points.

As it has so often, though, U of L kept its poise.

The win was the Cards' 18th in a row at home, pushing their two-season record in the KFC Yum Center to 28-2.

"That's been our m.o. the last two years," Coach Rick Pitino said. "Every time it gets tough, this team rises to the occasion. I think that's our greatest asset, is they're mentally and physically tough. They make great plays."

Leading the list Saturday was Russ Smith, a 6-foot sophomore making his third career start. He scored a career-high 24 points, including 10 of 12 free throws.

The points were almost secondary, though.

"Seven steals is good because I actually feel like I'm playing defense and I'm actually causing havoc," Smith said. "So seven steals, that's a great accomplishment; 24 — anybody can get 24 points, but to get seven steals, that's special."

U of L ended with a 24-16 edge in points-off-turnovers.

Smith's seven steals are third-most in a game ever by a Cardinal.

Gorgui Dieng, U of L's 6-foot-11 sophomore from Senegal, put up a third consecutive double-double, getting 14 points and 14 rebounds. He also blocked six shots. Half of his rebounds came on the offensive end.

"I feel good," Dieng said after playing all but the last 18 seconds. "I'm just trying to contribute as much as I can to help this team win. Because if we win, we all are going to look good."

Peyton Siva had 13 points and nine assists. It was his third straight game with at least eight assists.

"I thought we made some fabulous plays down the stretch. 'Rak' just had an incredible rebound when we needed it," Pitino said, referring to Rakeem Buckles. "Russ Smith was fantastic. Big time — really big time."

Will Barton had big-time numbers for Memphis (5-4). The 6-6 sophomore totaled 28 points and 16 rebounds, prompting Pitino to compare him to a Hall of Famer.

"We went up against a great basketball player tonight," Pitino said. "Great because he's always under control. You don't see guys like that anymore. Sort of like an Elgin Baylor-type player."

The teams combined for 54 fouls and 83 free throws. U of L went 32-for-40 at the line, to Memphis' 29-for-43.

Louisville led 42-32 at halftime despite shooting 28.2 percent (11-for-39) from the field. Memphis shot 29 percent (9-for-31), going 0-for-7 from three-point range.

"We foul them, that's a score," Pitino said. "So when we look at our 'man' defense in the first half, we don't see 28 percent. We see probably 45 percent because we're fouling. And the same goes for them. ... The second half, it becomes wide open because the two teams were playing so hard."

A Kyle Kuric three gave the Cards a 47-34 lead 1½ minutes into the second half.

Memphis quickly rallied, using runs of 7-0, 6-0 and 5-0 to pull to within one, 53-52.

The Tigers caught up, 55-all, on Tarik Black's put-back, then went ahead on Joe Jackson's three-point play.

Tied at 59, 61, 63 and 70, the Cards took the lead for keeps with an 8-0 spurt.

Chane Behanan sank two free throws with 6:27 left. Siva fed Buckles for a transition layup. Dieng grabbed an offensive board and dropped in a hook.

Then Smith lobbed an on-the-run alley-oop to Kuric, who finished with a flush for a 78-70 lead with 4:49 left.

After Jackson hit two free throws for Memphis, Kuric misfired. But Buckles reached for the rafters to grab the rebound and was fouled. He made both free throws.

Memphis never came closer than five from there.

■ U of L has played Memphis more than any other school except Cincinnati. Former league rivals in the Missouri Valley Conference and Conference USA, the Cards led the all-time series 52-34.

Afterward, Pitino lobbied for the teams to again be conference rivals: "It was exciting to have Memphis back. We've had some great games with them. I'm just hoping that the Big East gets smart and does something about that and allows them to come in the league. Because we got hurt big-time (with Syracuse and Pitt leaving) ... and we need Memphis. Memphis doesn't need us; we need Memphis. We need Temple. We need to build up basketball again."

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