Pitino not taking upset-minded Vikings lightly

Trey Lewis and the Vikings put a scare into No. 3 Kentucky in a 68-61 road loss last season after leading at halftime.

Mark Zerof/Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Louisville isn’t looking back as it prepares for what coach Rick Pitino insists will be a tougher test against Cleveland State.

Coming off a historic defensive performance, the sixth-ranked Cardinals will try to give Pitino his 700th career victory Wednesday night when they go after their 31st consecutive home win over a nonconference opponent.

Louisville (4-0) appeared as though it might record a first-half shutout for the first time since Duke led North Carolina 7-0 on Feb. 24, 1979, until Savannah State sank a free throw with 4:02 left Monday.

The Cardinals scored the first 29 points en route to a 41-7 halftime advantage for their fewest points allowed in a half since the 1972-73 season. They also limited the Tigers to 2 of 26 first-half shooting and 19.6 percent shooting for the game, including 0 of 16 from 3-point range.

Louisville, which also forced 26 turnovers, ranks among the NCAA leaders in defensive field-goal percentage at 31.5 and 3-point percentage at 19.0 while sitting in the top 10 by forcing 21.3 turnovers per game.

"I thought our pressure was good," Pitino said. "I thought our zone-man was very good, and the other team just had one of those nights where they could not hit a shot."

Pitino doesn’t want his club getting a false sense of security after allowing its fewest points since a 20-13 win at Georgetown College on Feb. 4, 1947. So the Hall of Fame coach isn’t showing the game tape for the first time since he arrived at Louisville.

He believes the team faces a more difficult challenge as he looks to reach the 700-win mark for his 30-year career.

"Cleveland State will be a much tougher game," Pitino said. "I know what you are saying, well Savannah beat Cleveland State. It is totally different. Cleveland State was in charge of the game."

Cleveland State (2-2) led by 13 points midway through the second half Saturday before Savannah State stormed back and hit a tying 3-pointer with one second left in regulation on the way to an 87-83 overtime win.

Former Penn State guard Trey Lewis scored 27 in the loss and is averaging a team-high 16.0 points for the Vikings. Marlin Mason added 26.

Cleveland State will have to take better care of the ball against Louisville after committing 20 turnovers.

The Vikings are 5-11 in their last 16 games versus Top 25 opponents, and put a scare into No. 3 Kentucky in a 68-61 road loss last season after leading at halftime.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, have won 30 straight home games against nonconference opponents and 31 in a row there against unranked foes. They’re 68-9 all-time at the KFC Yum! Center.

Junior forward Montrezl Harrell averages a team-high 18.0 points, senior guard Wayne Blackshear has totaled 29 points in his last two games and freshman center Chinanu Onuaku is averaging 10.7 points and 10.0 rebounds over his last three.

The Cardinals lead the series 4-0, though these teams haven’t met since 1995.