NCAA BK

No. 6 Louisville beats Western Kentucky behind strong second half

Louisville Cardinals forward/center Mangok Mathiang shoots against Western Kentucky Hilltoppers forward Aaron Adeoye
Louisville C Mangok Mathiang scored a career-high 13 poionts against Western Kentucky.
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)

Most satisfying to Russ Smith about No. 6 Louisville's victory over Western Kentucky was his teammates' assistance in overcoming the absence of starting point guard Chris Jones.

Just as important was the timing of those contributions that put away the Hilltoppers.

Smith had 14 points and 10 assists and Louisville shot 69 percent from the field in the second half to pull away to a 79-63 victory on Saturday.

With Jones sidelined at least a game with a sprained right wrist, the Cardinals (9-1) got numerous backcourt contributions to beat their in-state rival for the fifth straight time.

Smith, Louisville's leading scorer who has tried to involve teammates more this season, set the tone in both areas with five assists and nine points in the second half to finish with his second double-double in three games.

Louisville's bench outscored WKU's 33-20.

"My job is just to perform on a daily basis and get my teammates involved," Smith said. "If shots aren't falling, I have to find my teammates, play some great defense and help Louisville win some games."

Freshman Terry Rozier grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds starting in Jones' place while little-used senior reserve Tim Henderson -- whose consecutive 3-pointers helped Louisville rally past Wichita State in last spring's national semifinal -- added career highs of 12 points on four 3-pointers and four assists in 22 minutes.

"I'm kind of used to that role, I've had it for four years now," the walk-on said. "We have such a great group of people, a great group of guards who can all play well.

"It's whatever Coach (Rick Pitino) feels like is going to work that game and how you match up with them. I guess he felt like I matched up well with this team and with Chris out."

Their efforts helped Louisville pad a 31-28 halftime lead as the Cardinals made 13 of their first 21 attempts from the field after the break to build a 63-44 lead with 6:02 left. They shot 18 of 26 in the second half.

Louisville held the Hilltoppers (5-4) scoreless for nearly 6 minutes.

Mangok Mathiang added a career-high 13 points and Chane Behanan had 11 points and seven rebounds for Louisville, which shot 30 of 59 overall (51 percent) after hitting just 36 percent in the first half.

Wayne Blackshear added 12 points while senior forward Stephan Van Treese had five points with four rebounds, providing a presence for the Cardinals with Mathiang hampered by three fouls.

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Pitino praised Smith, his senior tri-captain, for being the catalyst.

"Until you knock the young man off of his throne, he's the premier player in college basketball," Pitino said. "(It's a) biased opinion by me, but I think he is because he has made every change.

"Two years ago, I needed him to carry the team on his back, he did. Now, I need him to pass the basketball and take good shots, he does."

T.J. Price's 22 points led WKU, which shot just 36 percent and was outscored 36-14 inside. Brandon Harris, coming off a career-high 30-point game at Southern Illinois, finished with four points.

Louisville improved to 38-39 all-time against WKU in a series that both coaches want to continue even though its programs are headed to new leagues next season. The Cardinals will leave the American Athletic Conference to join the Atlantic Coast Conference while the Hilltoppers will move from the Sun Belt to Conference USA.

The Cardinals' collective effort beat back a Western Kentucky team that came in a little deeper after transfers Trency Jackson and Chris Harrison-Docks became eligible on Friday. WKU coach Ray Harper promised to play both extensively and even started Jackson at guard in a strong lineup featuring leading scorer Price (15.6 points) and George Fant (13.9).

Harrison-Docks finished with 10 points and Jackson had six.

Star players were mostly secondary in a tight first half featuring four ties and eight lead changes before Louisville rallied twice from four-point deficits for its narrow edge at the break. Blackshear scored the Cardinals' final eight points of the half including consecutive 3-pointers.

Louisville opened the second half with a 14-5 run for a 45-33 lead that eventually reached 21.

"I thought the first half we did good job of keeping the pace a little slower," Harper said. "Second half, I thought they dictated pace, got out and got some easy baskets."

Tagged: Louisville, Western Kentucky, Trency Jackson, Russ Smith, Tim Henderson

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