Louisville 94, Oral Roberts 57

Rick Pitino began the night with a pep talk. He ended it with

applause.

In between came a rare sight for the Louisville coach: a little

defensive intensity from his team.

Edgar Sosa scored 18 points while Samardo Samuels added 17

points and seven rebounds as the re-energized Cardinals snapped a

two-game losing streak with a 94-57 victory over Oral Roberts on

Wednesday.

Frustrated by a decided lack of effort during stunning home

losses to Charlotte and Western Carolina, Pitino televised his

pregame speech over the Jumbotron at Freedom Hall, challenging the

Cardinals to stop playing like “impostors.”

Pitino added a history lesson on top of it, writing the American

League baseball standings from early in the 2009 season on the

chalkboard inside the locker room. He pointed out that the New York

Yankees were in third place, as were the Minnesota Twins. Both

teams came back to win division titles, with the Yankees eventually

capturing the World Series.

“I felt we needed motivation for our fans and for our team,”

Pitino said. “I told them, ‘Stop panicking and stop

worrying.”’

Instead, the Cardinals started playing. Louisville (6-3) held

undermanned Oral Roberts (6-6) to 39 percent shooting and forced 21

turnovers.

“Coach is terrific with that kind of stuff,” said guard Jerry

Smith, who finished with 14 points. “I’ve been here four years and

it’s something different every time. We just came out with a ton of

intensity.”

Dominique Morrison led Oral Roberts (6-6) with 17 points, but

the injury-depleted Golden Eagles couldn’t keep up after Louisville

took control with a 27-4 run midway through the first half. Oral

Roberts suited up eight players and seven saw action.

There was a moment of silence before the game to honor

evangelist Oral Roberts, who founded the university and passed away

on Tuesday at age 91. Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton said while he

was “saddened” by Roberts’ passing he doesn’t believe it affected

his team.

“I think it’s the worst defeat I’ve had in 11 years,” Sutton

said. “We did a horrendous job of taking care of the basketball

and they made us pay.”

Louisville turned Oral Roberts’ miscues into 37 points, exactly

what the Cardinals were looking for after they were upset with

relative ease by Charlotte and Western Carolina.

“Nobody wanted to get embarrassed again,” Samuels said.

Slow starts are nothing new for Louisville. The Cardinals have

lost three games before New Year’s in each of the last three

seasons only to make runs in the NCAA tournament.

Yet this slide felt different, and the players allowed as much

after looking lost on the court at times against the Catamounts and

49ers.

“I was so mad I didn’t know what to do,” said Samuels, who has

struggled in his sophomore season. “It was one of the lowest

points of my basketball career.”

The Cardinals hope they have already passed rock bottom and

started getting a bit of their swagger back after ambushing the

Golden Eagles during a 10-minute stretch midway through the first

half.

The teams traded baskets for the first 5 minutes before

Louisville erupted behind Sosa and the kind of all-around effort

Pitino has only seen sporadically this season.

Playing arguably its best 10 minutes of the season, Louisville

buried Oral Roberts during a 27-4 burst featuring suffocating

fullcourt pressure and some sizzling shooting.

A theft by Rakeem Buckles ended up with Sosa hitting one of his

four 3-pointers, and the Cardinals were just getting started. A

steal by Kyle Kuric led to an acrobatic layup by Peyton Siva as the

Golden Eagles had to fight just to get into their offense.

“I think the win tonight had to do with sharing the

basketball,” Sosa said as the Cardinals finished with 26 assists

on 35 baskets.

Perhaps even better was Louisville’s 3-point defense. Charlotte

and Western Carolina each knocked down 10 3-pointers in their wins

over the Cardinals.

Oral Roberts made just two of 17 3-point attempts Wednesday, and

if Pitino needed proof that his message had been received, he got

it from Smith.

The senior, who has battled injuries and poor shot selection so

far this year, ended up blocking a 3-pointer by Oral Roberts’ Ken

Holdman then raced to get the ball. Smith stepped out of bounds

when he finally got a hand on it, but his effort drew a rousing

ovation from the crowd and a respectful head nod from his

coach.

The Cardinals breezed into halftime with a 52-29 lead and

despite a couple of sluggish moments early in the second half, the

outcome was never in doubt as the Golden Eagles failed to duplicate

upsets of Missouri and Stanford earlier in the season.