LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY (TICKER) —Whatever Rick Pitino says to his team at halftime obviously works.
Reece Gaines scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half as 25th-ranked Louisville extended its winning streak to nine games with a 73-54 Conference USA victory over Saint Louis.
Under second-year coach Pitino, who has pumped life back into the program, the Cardinals (10-1, 2-0 C-USA American) are off to their best start since going 15-1 in the 1996-97 season.
For the third time this season, the Cardinals overcame a halftime deficit and rolled after intermission. Louisville trailed 26-24 at the half, but took over in the final 20 minutes with Gaines leading the way.
Freshman Anthony Drejaj scored 16 points to lead Saint Louis (6-7, 0-2), which has three losses against ranked teams this season.
In the rankings for the first time this season, the Cardinals got off to horrible start, missing 10 of their first 11 shots. They trailed 21-10 with 8:22 left in the first half when Billikens senior point guard Marque Perry went to the bench with his second foul.
By the time Perry returned with under three minutes left in the half, the Cardinals cut the deficit to 23-18 on freshman Francisco Garcia’s jumper.
The Cardinals were within two at intermission despite shooting just 24 percent (5-of-21).
Gaines, who leads the Cardinals at 17.5 points, missed seven of eight shots in the first half, but he caught fire after the break.
The Cardinals’ senior guard triggered a decisive 15-2 burst with eight points, capped by his jumper for a 50-37 advantage with 9:22 remaining. Gaines went 7-of-7 from the field in the second half.
Like Gaines, the Cardinals warmed up in the second half when they shot 56 percent (18-of-32) to finish at 43 percent (23-of-53) overall.
Drejaj was the only player to score in double figures for the Billikens, who shot 35 percent (18-of-52) and were outrebounded, 41-34. Perry was held to seven points on 2-of-11 shooting.
After the Cardinals made their run, the Billikens got no closer than 10 points the rest of the way and trailed by as many as 21 at 63-42 with 4:05 remaining.