Though Louisville is unbeaten, Rick Pitino already has criticized his team for some poor performances. Another one against UNLV could result in the Cardinals’ first loss.
Pitino hopes No. 16 Louisville can get a measure of revenge Saturday when it visits the Rebels.
The Cardinals (4-0) eased past Appalachian State 80-53 on Monday to win the Hall of Fame Showcase. That victory came after Pitino publicly scrutinized the team’s listless play in tournament wins over East Tennessee and Morgan State over the previous two days.
“I think we had to get three wins, which we did,” Pitino said.
To post its best start since opening 6-0 in 2005-06, Louisville must win at the Thomas & Mack Center in its only road game until visiting fifth-ranked Kentucky on Jan. 2.
These teams met at Louisville on New Year’s Eve last season and the Rebels pulled off a 56-55 upset victory. The Cardinals, then ranked 18th, shot 29.6 percent from the field and had a season-low seven assists.
They rebounded to win the Big East regular-season and tournament titles, and Pitino is hoping a matchup at Las Vegas will give his team - populated with 10 freshmen and sophomores - some needed experience.
“It helps us going to Las Vegas because you take a young team like this and you put them into Rupp Arena. It’s something they’ve never seen before, so it’s a little overpowering,” Pitino said of using this game to prepare for a visit to Kentucky. “You want to go into a tough home-court advantage like Vegas. It prepares you well.”
Pitino is also wary of UNLV’s strong defensive play, which has held opponents to 36.9 percent shooting and 26.7 from beyond the arc. The Rebels (4-0) are coming off Wednesday’s 80-59 victory over Holy Cross.
“They frustrate some of our young players and we have to prepare them for that,” Pitino said. “You’re not going to face any better man-to-man defense than Las Vegas. Villanova plays the same way so it prepares you well for some off the Big East wars you have coming up down the road.”
Louisville has won five of nine meetings with UNLV, including a 68-48 victory in its last visit to Las Vegas on Nov. 21, 2007.
Samardo Samuels is enjoying a strong start, leading the Cardinals with averages of 17.5 points and 8.0 rebounds. The sophomore had only eight field-goal attempts Monday but scored 16 points.
Samuels was held to 10 points on 2-of-6 shooting by UNLV last season, and the 6-foot-9 forward was defending Oscar Bellfield when the 6-foot-2 Rebels guard made the go-ahead layup with 16 seconds to play.
Bellfield had 13 points Wednesday and a career-high 22 in a Nov. 18 victory over Nevada, but backcourt mate Tre’Von Willis has been UNLV’s most consistent offensive threat with 16.0 points per game. Willis scored 16 against the Cardinals last season.
The Rebels, seeking their second consecutive 5-0 start, hope another win over Louisville can vault them into the Top 25 for the first time since ending the 2006-07 season at No. 19. They received five votes in this week’s poll.
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