PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — While Rick Pitino’s teams might be known for shooting 3-pointers, No. 16 Louisville is peaking with another facet of the game — defense.
Preston Knowles hit three 3-pointers in a game-opening 17-2 run and the Cardinals held Rutgers to its lowest point total in four years in a 55-37 victory Tuesday night.
Gilvydas Biruta had 12 points to lead the Scarlet Knights, who made 13 field goals in shooting a season-low 29.5 percent. The 37 points were the fewest for Rutgers since it had that many in a 2007 loss to DePaul.
“Playing in front of a tough crowd, you just want to take them out of it,” said Terrence Jennings, who added eight points and five blocked shots as the Cardinals beat Rutgers for the fifth straight time. “You don’t want to give them a lot of confidence. Once we did that, we knew we had them.”
Rutgers coach Mike Rice walked into the post-game news conference and said he should be in the parking lot apologizing to Scarlet Knights’ fans for the effort in a game in which he felt his team quit for the first time this season.
“Tonight we fell down a hill,” Rice said. “Instead of trying to climb back up and over and seeing the top, which we have done so many times, the climb was too hard tonight.”
With the exception of Biruta, Rice said everyone had a bad performance, including himself.
This game was never in doubt after the 17-2 run during which Rutgers was 1 of 8 from the field, 0 for 2 from the free throw line and had five turnovers.
Louisville hit 7 of 16 shots from 3-point range in the opening half with the total being one less than it had in the last two games combined.
While he finished 4 of 13 from the field, Knowles was deadly in the opening minutes. Every 3-pointer the guard took hit nothing but net, and at least one was NBA distance.
Louisville was outstanding in the first 17 minutes, opening a 33-14 lead on Mike Marra’s third 3-pointer of the half.
After that Louisville seemed to lose its intensity.
Rutgers had a chance to get back in the game in the second half when Louisville missed 10 of its first 12 shots in the opening 11 minutes.
“That usually happens to every team when they have a big lead,” Knowles said. “It’s kind of hard for them to keep that consistency up on the offense end. But what kept the lead was our defense.”
Two free throws by Biruta got Rutgers within 39-30 with 9:37 to go, but Chris Smith hit a free throw and Knowles and Jennings added two more apiece in an 11-2 spurt that ended with 3-pointers by Knowles and Smith.
“We’re getting better defensively and that’s the key,” Pitino said. “The last two games we were brilliant on defense, before that we were average to good. I say that because we got teams to take bad shots but we didn’t grab the rebounds. In the last two games we got teams to take bad shots and we came down with the rebound. That’s the biggest jump we’ve made.”
The Cardinals (21-7, 10-5 Big East) hit six of their first nine shots from long range in opening a 19-point first-half lead and handing Rutgers (13-14, 4-11) its third straight loss and seventh in eight games.
Pitino was chipper after the game, praising his players’ attitude, reminiscing about his early coaching days at Providence and lauding his defense, which has became a mindset for his team.
“This team buys into anything,” Pitino said. “You could sell them waterfront property in Arizona and they’d buy it off you. This is very unusual.”
Pitino also said his team is healthy again, having Rakeem Buckles (broken finger) and Gorgui Dieng (concussion) back in the lineup.
“We’ve been playing great defense now that we have a bench again,” Pitino said. “That’s the key, because you’re going to go on the road once in a while or you’re going to be in a tournament and the one game you’re not going to shoot well because the other team plays good defense and you got to win at the defensive end and we did.”
Knowles finished with 14 points and eight rebounds and Kyle Kuric added 11 points for Louisville, which gave up 35 points earlier this season in a win over San Francisco.
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