LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Despite an 86-64 win, Louisville basketball coach Chris Mack wasn't happy with the way his team performed against Prairie View Sunday night and he let his players know it during preparations for Western Kentucky.
Four players out? So what. Down to eight scholarship players? Never mind. Fourth game in seven days? Forget it. No excuses would be tolerated and neither would anything but maximum effort.
But even Mack wasn't expecting his team to respond in such dominating fashion, as the Cardinals (4-0) turned in a sharp performance in every facet and rolled to an impressive 75-54 victory Tuesday night in the KFC Yum! Center over a WKU (2-2) team that had lost to No. 11 West Virginia by only six points a few days earlier.
"Our effort didn't surprise me," Mack said afterward. "I was surprised that it became a 20-point game."
"I'd like to think I always challenge my team," he added. "I think that's your job as a coach is to stretch expectations and not lessen your standards. I wasn't very happy with the way we played against Prairie View and I knew that Western was gonna present a much better challenge, so if we didn't execute those details and we weren't ready to play and we were lackadaisical then we'd get our heads handed to us.
"I think my job is to give my team reality as I see it and tonight I feel like we were the harder playing team and we earned that win," Mack said.
The reality for Louisville was 40 minutes of alert, suffocating defense, a crisp offense, laser-like focus and give-no-quarter hustle.
UofL forced Western into 21 turnovers and converted them into 21 points. The Cards held the Hilltoppers to 23 points below their season average, limited them to 3-of-18 shooting (16.7%) beyond the arc, kept them off the foul line -- WKU was averaging 23 free throw attempts; they got 11 -- and frustrated NBA-bound center Charles Bassey.
Bassey still managed to get 13 points and a game-high 15 rebounds -- half WKU's total -- but he didn't dominate in the paint and he shied away from the challenge by moving outside and attempting a trio of 3-pointers, all misses. He went to the bench with 6 1/2 minutes remaining and didn't return.
"This was gonna be the biggest challenge we've faced so far, simply because they've been playing games, they've got a veteran lineup," Mack said. "For our guys to come out and face a team like that and we've got freshmen, sophomores, down four players ... I couldn't be more pleased with what the game meant to them. I thought we were locked into the details of what Western was trying to execute. I thought our defense was excellent, we took care of the ball. Really happy with our group."
He was especially pleased with sophomore guard David Johnson and freshman forward Dre Davis.
Davis became Louisville's third different leading scorer in four games with 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting and 5-of-6 free throws. He showed his versatility at the offensive end by scoring on a pair of treys, a fast-break layup and a spin move in the lane.
"Dre's a great defensive player," Mack said. "The great thing is he's getting all this experience. He played through mistakes, he's battling, he's a warrior. David and Carlik (Jones) do a really good job of sucking the defense in and finding him, and he should shoot with confidence because he's a really good shooter. He does not play like a freshman."
Johnson, meanwhile, turned in a splendid all-around performance with 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
"He was juiced from the very beginning," Mack said.
"Coach Mack expects a lot out of me," Johnson said. "I slowed down and let everything come to me. That's something I've been working on all preseason. It's still not the best, but hopefully, I'll keep on improving."
Jones, who was UofL's leading scorer in each of the first two games with 18 points in both, finished with 17 and also had six rebounds and four assists. Redshirt freshman Jae'Lyn Withers led UofL to a 34-31 rebounding edge with nine.
Western started fast, hitting six shots in a row after missing its first two and building a 25-17 lead midway through the first half. But the Cards didn't blink and their defense took over and sparked a 12-0 run for a 29-25 advantage.
During the surge, five different players scored for the hosts as the Toppers missed nine straight shots and committed four turnovers while going 6 1/2 minutes without scoring.
It was 34-29 at halftime and the second 20 minutes belonged to the Cards, who stated their intentions from the outset by coercing WKU into turnovers on its first five possessions. UofL then used a 12-0 run ignited by seven consecutive points by Davis to open a 57-41 lead and the Toppers were done.
"Our motto this year has been toughness," Johnson said. "We've been trying to stay tough throughout every situation. We've got guys out, we're limited on people, so staying tough through every possession and staying locked in to what we have to do to win the game is really important."
CLASSIC SCHEDULE REVISED
The schedule for the Classic has been revised for the last four days, with the original schedule of 16 games starting last Wednesday reduced to 14 games. However, Louisville's final two contests were unaffected. UofL will make its final appearance in the event at 2 p.m. Friday against UNC Greensboro.
Prairie View A&M will not participate in its remaining two games in the event due to COVID-19-related issues. The Panthers’ games against UNC Greensboro today and Western Kentucky on Thursday have been canceled.
WAKE FOREST GAME MOVED AGAIN
Instead of hosting Wake Forest (4-3, 3-3 ACC) on Dec. 19 in its final football game of the season, UofL (3-7, 2-7) will play the Demon Deacons on Dec. 12 after the game was moved for the second time by the ACC. Game time and network TV will be announced on Sunday.
Instead of a three-week hiatus following their 34-27 loss to Boston College last Saturday, the Cards' break will be only two weeks.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.