The only real drama in the University of Louisville’s final tune-up for the regular season was whether or not the Cardinals would hit a three-pointer.
Gorgui Dieng led Louisville to a comfortable win over Bellarmine (Jim Davis)
Luke Hancock finally did – after 17 misses – with 4:06 to play in UofL’s 65-46 victory over Division II Bellarmine University on Wednesday night at the KFC Yum! Center.
Louisville’s long-range struggles were minimized, though, by its dominance inside as the Cardinals outscored the Knights 42-16 in the paint.
Freshman forward Montrezl Harrell finished with 16 points to lead Louisville in scoring for the second straight preseason game. Meanwhile, junior center Gorgui Dieng added 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. Those two combined to shoot 15 of 17 (88.2 percent) from the floor, while the seven other Cards who saw action were a collective 11 for 38 (28.9 percent). For the game, UofL shot 25 of 36 (69.4 percent) from two-point range and 1 of 19 (5.3 percent) from three-point range four days before its season-opener against Manhattan.
It wasn’t the Knights’ night either, though. Louisville held Bellarmine to 26.7 percent shooting (16 of 60), including 19.2 percent in the first half, when the Cards built a 32-15 lead.
“From a defensive standpoint it was great playing against them because we had to guard on the perimeter,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “Most of the night we did a good job switching. We broke down when we got a little tired and stopped talking. Our defense was good, and that is what we are trying to build on. I really do think our poor outside shooting was a product of rushing and having tired legs from chasing them around.”
Although Hancock struggled from the field – he was 3-for-10, including 1 of 7 from three-point range – he finished with eight points, six rebounds and five assists.
“Tonight we didn’t shoot the ball well, but tomorrow all of those shots might go in,” he said. “Guys shoot the ball well some nights and other nights they don’t, that’s all it is. I bet Sunday we won’t shoot the ball that way and we’ll be ready to go.”
Senior point guard – and Sports Illustrated regional coverboy – Peyton Siva added six points, seven assists and four steals for the Cards, who are ranked No. 2 nationally in the Associated Press and USA Today preseason polls.
Led by Harrell and Dieng inside UofL used its height to its advantage in opening up an early lead on Bellarmine, the 2011 D-II national champ.
The Cards took control with a 17-2 run. It was highlighted by Siva’s slick bounce pass in transition to Harrell for a dunk.
A floater in the lane from Bellarmine senior guard Chris Dowe, a preseason All-American from Eastern High School, with 4:35 to play in the first half ended a near 6-minute scoring drought for the Knights.
Louisville shot 42.9 percent in the first half and had 10 assists on its 12 field goals. Of the Cards’ 32 first-half points, 22 came in the paint and eight from the free throw line.
UofL also relied on its defense, outscoring Bellarmine 16-0 in points off turnovers and forcing the Knights into 6 of 31 shooting.
In the second half the Cards seemed to wear down as they only out-pointed the Knights 33-31. Dowe tallied 12 of his game-high 19 points in the final 20 minutes.
“A lot of us weren’t ready to play that type of style and Bellarmine is really good at it,” Hancock said.
The Knights never got closer than 13 (38-25) after intermission, though, leaving the only drama for whether or not Louisville would hit a three-pointer.
And when Hancock finally did, the crowd (what was left of the 20,422 at least) erupted.
“It kind of took me back a little bit,” Hancock said of the roar. “I knew we hadn’t shot well, but I didn’t know it was our first three.”
Louisville opens its regular season at 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon against Manhattan and former UofL assistant coach Steve Masiello, who is in his second season as the Jaspers’ head man.
“We will know how good we are on Sunday when we play Manhattan,” Pitino said. “I don’t put a whole lot of stock in this game, or the Pikeville game. You are not going to see 6-11 guys chasing 6-1 guys. We are going to have to handle the pressure from Manhattan. They are going to play exactly how we will in terms of pressure and changing defenses. It will be a much better test of how we play. I think tonight, all of our switching and all our movement on defense tired us out on offense. It affected our offense and that’s why we were short on a lot of our shots.”