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.