Rebuilding Butler falls 69-53 to No. 8 Louisville
Butler coach Brad Stevens is trying to push all the right buttons with his young team.
It's not working yet.
Kyle Kuric scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half, and Chris Smith scored 13 of his 15 points in the final 20 minutes Saturday, leading No. 8 Louisville to a 69-53 victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse. It was the sixth home loss in Stevens' four seasons, and the Bulldogs' worst home loss since a 47-point shellacking by No. 5 North Carolina in 1992.
''We've got a lot of young guys with some green to them, and that's not all bad,'' Stevens said. ''But we've got to use that to our advantage and not as an excuse.''
Butler's fans came to see the highest-ranked team in Hinkle Fieldhouse since the Tar Heels, and were so eager that they lined up in chilly temperatures and a steady rain more than 90 minutes before tip-off.
Clearly, these are not the same Bulldogs that have unfurled back-to-back national runner-up banners.
Butler (1-2) is trying to replace nearly two-thirds of its scoring and nearly half of its rebounding from last season. On Saturday, the Bulldogs played well for 30 minutes and erratic for 10 --a combination that won't work against the nation's best teams.
Sophomore Khyle Marshall led the Bulldogs with 20 points and six rebounds. Junior Chase Stigall was the only other player to reach double figures, scoring all 11 of his points in the first half.
''There were a couple of plays where they beat us to loose balls, they got down on the floor, they got a couple of offensive rebounds,'' Marshall said. ''Louisville made a lot of good plays, too.''
Kuric, who has been primarily a 3-point specialist before this season, was Louisville's catalyst.
Coach Rick Pitino had implored the 6-foot-4 senior to become a more well-rounded player during the offseason, and apparently, Kuric heeded the advice just in time to make it pay off. Starting guard Peyton Siva missed Saturday's game because of a sprained left ankle, and a rash of injuries and academic problems have left the Cardinals (3-0) thin on bodies.
So Kuric and Smith, both seniors, filled in most of the gaps against Butler.
''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.'''
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 Stevens is now 57-6.
''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.
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.
The Cardinals kept right on going in the second half, 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.''