No. 8 Louisville blasts Butler, 69-53
Rick Pitino told Kyle Kuric he needed to expand his game this season.
Apparently, Kuric heeded the message just in time.
With starting guard Peyton Siva out because of a sprained left ankle, Kuric relied on his new shooting repertoire to break down Butler's defense, scoring 12 of his 17 points in the second half to help No. 8 Louisville pull away 69-53 on Saturday.
''Kyle sometimes will babysit for my grandchildren while he drives me around and we do a lot of talking,'' Pitino said. ''I said, `Kyle, if you're going to be great, they're going to play your jump shot. Now everybody's coming after you, ball fake, take it to the rim, use the pick-and-roll.' Both him and Chris (Smith) gave us a really big performance in the second half offensively.''
Smith finished with 15 points, 13 coming in the final 20 minutes, when both of Pitino's point guards were bogged down in foul trouble.
For the Cardinals (3-0), it was yet another strong early performance, though this one was more impressive because it came on the road, in front of a near sellout crowd and in a venue where the past two national runner-up banners are hanging in the rafters.
Butler's fans were so eager to see the highest-ranked team to visit Hinkle Fieldhouse since 1992, that they lined up outside more than 90 minutes before tip-off to brave chilly temperatures and a steady rain.
But instead of watching the upset they hoped to see, they watched Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens suffer his sixth home loss in four seasons — Butler's worst home defeat since No. 5 North Carolina delivered a 103-56 shellacking in 1992.
''I did get a little concerned when I read the game notes and saw he was 57-5 here (in home games) since taking over as head coach,'' Pitino said, drawing laughter. ''So I used it in my pregame speech. I said, `This coach is a tremendous coach, he's 57-5 here, can you imagine what it will be like if you win this ballgame?''
Thanks to Kuric and Smith, the Cardinals got a chance to experience that celebration.
Butler (1-2) controlled the first half and hung around for the first part of the second half before finally running out of steam and breaking down.
''When you trade baskets with them or you trade misses with them, you're done,'' Stevens said. ''We didn't play at the end with the same stuff we did the first 30 minutes.''
Of course, this isn't the same team Stevens has been coaching. Butler lost nearly two-thirds of its scoring and nearly half of its rebounding from the group that took him to a second straight Final Four run.
The young Bulldogs were led by sophomore Khyle Marshall, who finished with 20 points and six rebounds, and junior Chase Stigall, who scored all 11 of his points in the first half.
Butler stayed close by reverting to a more traditional game plan — relying on 3-pointers and defense.
The Bulldogs scored the first five points and maintained their narrow lead until Jared Swopshire drove for a layup and drew a foul with 2.4 seconds left in the half, giving Louisville its first lead of the game at 29-28. Swopshire missed the free throw, and Chrishawn Hopkins' half-court heave bounced off the backboard, just left of the basket.
It was never the same after that.
''I think this team is making really great strides, all we need to do is learn how to finish off games,'' Marshall said. ''We played 30 minutes of great basketball, then we just kind of let our foot off the pedal a little bit.''
The Cardinals wasted no time in making the Bulldogs pay a price.
After scoring the final four points of the first half, Louisville opened the second half by scoring the first five points to make it 34-28.
Marshall answered with back-to-back baskets, and when Hopkins made two free throws with 14:45 to go, the Bulldogs led again, 37-36. A few minutes later, Ronald Nored hit two free throws to give Butler a 41-40 lead.
Then Kuric and Smith took charge.
Smith's three-point play sparked an 11-2 run that gave Louisville a 51-43 lead with 9:40 to play. Kuric's 3 over 6-foot-8 freshman Kameron Woods made it 56-45 with 6:10 to play and his next 3, two minutes later, made it 61-47.
''I've worked on it (better shooting) a lot during the summer and I continue to work on it even now. I've got to do something else besides hitting wide-open 3s,'' Kuric said. ''We just started getting defensive stops and then we were able to get good shots.''