Louisville coach Rick Pitino thought his young team learned a few lessons during its first true road game of the season.
The 20th-ranked Cardinals will try to put that knowledge to work as they play the first of eight straight home contests Wednesday night against Stetson.
As a 25-year-old coach at Boston University, Pitino says he was told that to build a better program, he needed to take his team into an opponent’s arena at least once or twice before starting conference play.
Louisville (4-1) did just that Saturday against UNLV. After falling behind by 19 points in the second half, the Cardinals rallied to tie the game with 4:24 remaining before falling 76-71.
“It’s not a bad loss,” Pitino said. “It’s not surprising when you play a road game like this, this early in the season. It’s a difficult place to play. We knew it would be a tough game, but we knew it would make us a better team in the end.
“I found out they’re willing to not give in, they’re willing to stand up and fight every step along the way.”
Edgar Sosa scored a season-high 18 points, and Samardo Samuels also reached double figures for the fifth straight game with 13. Rakeem Buckles, one of eight underclassmen in the team’s rotation, had eight of his 10 points during Louisville’s comeback and grabbed 11 rebounds for his first career double-double.
“He had three guys over his back on one play and still made the bucket,” Pitino said of his freshman forward. “I think he mixed it up very well in a very intense environment.”
After limiting their first four opponents to 37.2 percent shooting, the Cardinals allowed UNLV to connect at a 48.2 percent clip.
“We need a lot of work at the defensive end, both from the perimeter as well as inside,” Pitino said. “Our press needs a lot of work. Our hustle and effort are there, but our fundamentals from a defensive standpoint are not there.”
Pitino’s team shouldn’t have as much trouble containing a Stetson club that’s averaged 59.8 points and shot 36.3 percent in its six games.
The Hatters (2-4) haven’t beaten a Division I team since a 59-39 win over Kennesaw State on Feb. 14, and haven’t scored more than 64 points in their losses this season - all on the road. That includes a 78-56 defeat at South Carolina Upstate in their Atlantic Sun conference opener Monday night.
Making his second straight start, freshman guard Tyshawn Patterson had a team-best 17 points to increase his team-leading averaged to 15.3. Senior guard A.J. Smith, a preseason all-conference selection, is scoring 13.3 points per game.
The Cardinals won’t have Preston Knowles or Peyton Siva to defend that duo as both will likely sit out with minor injuries. Buckles and fellow freshman Mike Marra are expected to see more playing time in their absences.
They’ll try to help Louisville improve to 5-1 all-time against the Hatters.