Looking somewhat out of sync perhaps because of a late-evening start, No. 16 Louisville awoke in time to post another rout.
Trey Lewis scored 17 points, Damion Lee added 14 and the Cardinals pulled away from Missouri-Kansas City for a 75-47 victory Tuesday night.
After uneven play for most of the contest, the Cardinals (10-1) regrouped with a 9-0 run over 2:02 for a 60-39 lead with 8:17 remaining. Louisville went on to clinch an opening win in the Billy Minardi Classic. Lewis was the catalyst as he scored nine points after intermission and helped Louisville cruise down the stretch.
Lee made 5 of 8 from the field including two 3-pointers, while Jaylen Johnson, Chinanu Onuaku and Donovan Mitchell each had 10 points as the Cardinals won their fifth in a row. Louisville outrebounded UMKC 36-31 after playing even on the boards for much of the game and shot 49 percent.
“We played all right,” Lee said. “We could have played better, of course. This game is just something we have to learn from.”
Martez Harrison scored 12 points for UMKC, 7-5, which shot just 30 percent as its two-game winning streak ended.
The game matched Louisville coach Rick Pitino against former Cardinals assistant Kareem Richardson, now in his third season as Kangaroos coach. Richardson’s staff had included Andre McGee, who resigned Oct. 23 in the wake of allegations by escort Katina Powell in a book that the former Louisville staffer paid her and other dancers $10,000 to strip and have sex with Cardinals players and recruits from 2010-14.
The allegations cast a shadow over Louisville entering the season, but things have quieted down as several investigations continue. Pitino hasn’t commented since late October and he tried to keep this week’s focus on the Classic named for his late brother-in-law, who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
With Pitino having mentored Richardson and other former Louisville assistants and players in this round-robin event, defense figured to be big. Louisville’s mix of zone and man defenses helped build a lead it never lost despite some disjointed moments.
The Cardinals played without 6-foot-10 forward Mangok Mathiang, who’s out six-to-eight weeks with a broken left foot sustained Saturday against Western Kentucky, and 7-footer Anas Mahmoud (ankle). But Louisville did just fine with a combination of Onuaku, Johnson, Ray Spalding (nine rebounds) and Matz Stockman despite being outrebounded 17-16 in the first half.
Johnson ended up with a career high in points along with five rebounds, while Onuaku grabbed nine boards and blocked five shots. The Cardinals also controlled the inside 40-16 and forced a season-high 19 turnovers.
“We want to play physically and we did a good job tonight of doing that,” the coach said. “We try to find the silver lining in every cloud. For this game, it was getting some guys minutes that wouldn’t normally play.”
Richardson saw this type of play from Louisville’s bench during its 2012-13 championship season and believes the Cardinals have similar potential.
“I think Louisville is a Final Four caliber team,” Richardson said of the Cardinals. “Their length and size and athleticism certainly wore us down. That’s part of what they do in terms of their pressure. Their defense is outstanding.”
UMKC still made things interesting with a 6-0 run coming out of the break to get within 10. The Cardinals answered with seven straight points for some breathing room and finally sealed it with the late run.
Richardson said the escort scandal didn’t cloud his return to Louisville and pointed to the camaraderie he has with Pitino and UNC Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts. He added, “to be honest with you, I’m honored that he (Pitino) had the courtesy enough to ask us to come and play in the (Minardi) Classic.”
Lavell Boyd and Iken Eriobuna added eight points each for the Kangaroos.
Missouri-Kansas City next faces UNC Wilmington today.