Louisville hung its ninth Final Four banner Thursday night and immediately began its pursuit of a higher focus this season: a national title.
Playing their first exhibition, the second-ranked Cardinals beat Pikeville 93-57. Freshman Montrezl Harrell led Louisville with 19 points and 13 rebounds while returning center Gorgui Dieng added 16 points and 12 rebounds.
The Cardinals overpowered the 2010-11 NAIA champions, blocking 10 shots and outscoring the Bears 66-14 in the paint.
Pikeville senior Jamar Briscoe led all scorers with 26 points.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino presented Pikeville guard Elisha Justice his Final Four ring before the game. The former Kentucky Mr. Basketball transferred from Louisville this offseason to be closer to his eastern Kentucky home but did not play due to a left knee injury.
Peyton Siva, the Big East’s preseason player of the year, had six assists and joined backcourtmate Russ Smith with 17 points.
Harrell capped a late first-half run with a dunk off an inbounds pass before blocking a 3-point attempt that he dished ahead to Smith for a layup. He chased guards as the head of Louisville’s press defense for most of his 25 minutes.
”I think I did pretty good making a first impression,” he said. ”I’ve been waiting for November 1st for the longest (time).”
Harrell started at power forward in place of suspended Chane Behanan, whom Pitino is holding out of both exhibitions and banned from speaking with the media this semester. Guard Kevin Ware also missed Thursday’s game while serving a one-game suspension.
”Chane’s problems are from the summer. He had to do certain things and he didn’t do them,” Pitino said of Behanan’s status. ”I hope he’s ready for the Manhattan game.”
”He reminds of Chane last year. He just came in with a strong motor,” Siva said of the 6-foot-8 Harrell. ”He’s really going to help us a lot. He’s really going to give us some depth.”
Louisville returns Wednesday against intercity foe Bellarmine, the 2011 Division II champion, before opening the regular season against Manhattan, which is coached by former Pitino assistant Steve Masiello on Nov. 11.