LAS VEGAS (AP)—Between Jonathan Tavernari’s dazzling outside shooting and Trent Plaisted’s dominant inside play, No. 6 Louisville seemed to be facing a two-man team for most of the night at the Las Vegas Invitational.
Brigham Young’s two stars were a whole lot more than the Cardinals could handle while they’re playing without two stars of their own.
Tavernari hit five 3-pointers while scoring a career-best 29 points, and BYU capitalized on Louisville’s injuries and weariness for a 78-76 victory Friday night.
Plaisted added 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Cougars (5-0) as they held a narrow lead for most of the game with the inside-outside punch of their top two scorers, who scored all but six of BYU’s second-half points.
By the time Tavernari and Plaisted embraced at the buzzer, the Cardinals (3-1) had learned just how tough life will be without injured big men David Padgett and Juan Palacios. Even Louisville’s wealth of remaining talent wasn’t enough to slow down two impressive scorers on what’s expected to be the Mountain West Conference’s top team.
“I just wanted them to play like I knew they could play,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “I wanted them to rebound, push it, attack, and see if we could take advantage of them while they were missing a guy or two.”
Louisville is the highest-ranked opponent beaten by the Cougars since Dec. 21, 1965, when BYU knocked off No. 2 St. Joseph’s.
Derrick Caracter scored 24 points and Earl Clark added 19 for the Cardinals, but Clark missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 3 seconds to play. Caracter went 10-for-12 while filling in admirably for injured captain David Padgett, but forward Terrence Williams’ poor shooting and seven turnovers didn’t help.
“We’re a depleted basketball team. We’re running out of gas,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “BYU earned the win. They made tough shots with the game on the line. We turned it over way too much.”
Louisville opened its Vegas vacation with a 20-point win over UNLV on Wednesday night, but the Cardinals’ toughest nonconference schedule in several years is even more difficult because of injuries.
They’re still getting used to playing without Padgett, who could miss the season after breaking his kneecap last weekend, and Palacios, who still hasn’t played with a knee injury. Pitino acknowledged BYU thoroughly exploited both players’ absences.
“They were hitting all their shots,” Clark said. “(Tavernari) is a good shooter. They kept making shots, they played together, they executed. That’s what wins basketball games.”
The Cougars’ fourth win in their last 40 games against ranked opponents spoiled Louisville’s expected matchup with top-ranked North Carolina on Saturday night in the final at the Orleans Arena. Instead, BYU will meet the Tar Heels, who beat Old Dominion 99-82 in the semifinals.
“The most important thing is for us to make sure this isn’t the high point of the season,” Rose said. “We can’t let this distract us from what we’re trying to do.”
Tavernari, the Brazilian forward who was the Mountain West’s top freshman last year, was easily the standout player in the schools’ first meeting since Christmas 1994. He scored 17 points in the second half, and Plaisted added 14 after halftime.
Tavernari’s 3-pointer with 2:27 to play put BYU up 74-67, and the Cardinals couldn’t rally. Louisville’s Will Scott hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make the final score close.
“I forced some shots, but most were in the rhythm of the play,” Tavernari said. “In the second half, I just wanted to make sure Trent knew it was his time. I happened to have the most points, but everybody on the team helped out.”
The long-stagnant BYU program is in its third season of revitalization under Rose, who spent seven years as a head coach just two hours north of Las Vegas in St. George, Utah, with perennial juco power Dixie College.
But only a few hundred BYU fans made the six-hour drive south from Provo, perhaps staying home for Saturday’s football game against archrival Utah. They were well outnumbered by the Louisville fans enjoying three Cardinals games in four days—and a turkey dinner with the team Thursday at their host casino.
But the Cougars opened with more energy and focus, leading for most of the first half and opening up a 10-point margin with 3 minutes left. Louisville, which got 13 fewer shots than the Cougars in the first half, cut the lead to 41-37 with another buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Scott.