Even without its two best post players and with another poor perimeter performance, Louisville opened its visit to Las Vegas with a rout.
The sixth-ranked Cardinals expect the trip to get tougher on Friday night when they meet Brigham Young in a matchup of unbeaten teams at the Las Vegas Invitational.
Louisville (3-0) is playing this three-game trip without forwards David Padgett and Juan Palacios. Padgett could be out for the season with a broken right kneecap while Palacios is expected back from a torn ligament in his right knee by mid-December.
“We had to change our whole system overnight,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “Padgett was the key to our offense and how we ran the high and low.”
The winner of Friday’s game will face top-ranked North Carolina or Old Dominion on Saturday. In order to prepare for this weekend, Pitino scheduled another game in Las Vegas on Wednesday and his team ended UNLV’s 19-game home winning streak with a 68-48 win.
The Cardinals led by double digits for much of the first half before the Runnin’ Rebels rallied for a 35-33 lead with 14:36 remaining in the game. Louisville responded with the next nine points and never looked back.
Earl Clark had 16 points and 12 rebounds and Jerry Smith added 14 points for Louisville, which won despite making just 5-of-17 3-pointers (29.4 percent). The Cardinals shot 26.1 percent (6-of-23) from beyond the arc in their last game - an 84-53 win over Jackson State on Nov. 18 - after sinking 22 3-pointers the previous night in a season-opening 104-69 victory over Hartford.
Sophomore Derrick Caracter took Padgett’s place in the starting lineup Wednesday and fouled out in 18 minutes with eight points and five boards. Terrance Farley backed him up and added six points and four boards.
“If we get our guys back healthy it will make a lot of guys better,” Pitino said. “When I made the schedule, I didn’t think we’d be down to eight scholarship players.”
BYU (4-0) has won its first four games by an average of 31 points, including a 97-73 victory over Hartford on Tuesday. Lee Cummard scored 20 points for the Cougars, who led by 24 points at halftime in a runaway victory.
“I am pleased with the way we came out tonight and played,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “We did an excellent job executing the zone. We were able to hit some shots early on, which gave us some space offensively.”
BYU made 13-of-22 3s against Hartford, the same team that gave up 22 against Louisville. Hartford coach Dan Leibovitz thinks Friday’s game should be competitive.
“Both teams shot the ball very well,” Leibovitz said. “Both teams are well coached. Both teams push the ball very effectively. It will be a good game.”
The Cougars, off to their best start since beginning 5-0 in 2002-03, are facing Louisville for the first time since a 75-60 win in the 1994 Great Alaska Shootout. The Cardinals have won the only other two meetings.
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