Louisville too much for WKU in second half: Toppers fall 79-63

Junior guard T.J. Price shoots over Louisville senior guard Tim Henderson during their game Saturday at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. WKU lost 79-63.

Tyler Lashbrook

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – WKU stepped up to the bright lights of the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday in the first half but went cold in the last 20 minutes as No. 6 Louisville (9-1) pulled away with a 79-63 victory.
WKU (5-4) led by four points midway through the first half but was outscored 48-35 in the final 20 minutes, shooting just 35 percent in the second half.
“I thought the first half we did a good job of keeping the pace a little slower,” WKU coach Ray Harper said. “In the second half I thought they dictated the pace.”
Senior guard Russ Smith played point guard for the Cardinals and finished the game with 14 points, 10 assists and just two turnovers. On the defensive end, he hounded WKU’s backcourt with intense full-court pressure.
WKU junior guard T.J. Price led the Toppers with 22 points. Louisville coach Rick Pitino praised Price after the game.
“Price is a heck of a (basketball) player,” Pitino said. “But we did a very good job in the interior tonight.” 
Pitino was right – the Cardinals were strong all afternoon in the post. They dominated the paint, scoring 36 points – with 15 off second chances – in the trenches, compared to 14 interior points by WKU.
A tip-in by junior forward George Fant gave WKU a 14-13 lead after 10 minutes of play in the first half. Louisiville freshman Mangok Mathiang scored on a cut to the basket, then WKU sophomore center Alex Rostov tipped in a bucket to retake the lead.
WKU freshman Chris Harrison-Docks, who played in his first game as a Topper, hit a three with 8:22 to halftime to extend the lead to four. A drive and dish from Smith to junior forward Chane Behanan closed the gap to two.
Mathiang scored on two-straight dunks to tie the game at 21 then Behanan scored around the rim to give the Cards a two-point lead at the 5:50 mark. Mathiang finished with a career-high 13 points and Behanan was later awarded the MVP of the game.
Freshman guard Payton Hulsey found a wide-open Price, who knocked down a triple from the left wing. On the next possession, Fant slammed home a dunk to put the Toppers up three. Blackshear hit a right corner-three on the Cardinals next possession to tie things up at 28 with less than two minutes to halftime.
On the Cardinals next trip up the court, Blackshear hit another three, this one from the left corner, to give Louisville a 31-28 lead – the halftime score.
In all, there were eight lead changes and 14 turnovers in the back-and-forth first half.
Louisville jumped out to a 11-5 run to start the second half before Harper called a timeout with his Toppers down nine-points. 
Price hit a long range jumper to spark a 5-0 run to get the Toppers within seven points midway through the second half. WKU cut the lead to six moments later when Harrison-Docks hit a pull up jumper just inside the three-point line. 
But WKU was unable to get it any closer to six. A six-minute scoring drought doomed the Toppers from any comeback attempt.
“At times we didn’t reverse the ball (on offense),” Harper said. “Some of it was due to their defense but at times we hurried. The one thing we thought we couldn’t do against this basketball team was take early shots in the possession.
“We needed to be patient and I thought we did that in the first half. We didn’t take a lot of early shots in the possession. Second half, we got away from it a little bit. (Louisville) lives and dies in transition, being able to get out, create turnovers and get easy baskets and that’s what they did in the second half.”
Louisville extended its lead to 13-points with just under nine minutes to play after Terry Rozier hit a fall away jumper from the right baseline. WKU never cut the lead again as the Cardinals sailed to a 16-point victory.
Louisville will take on Missouri State and Florida-International before heading to Lexington to play Kentucky on Dec. 28.
The Toppers, meanwhile, will begin their four-game home stretch on Wednesday against Southern Mississippi. From there they will play Murray State, Brescia and Ole Miss to finish up the calendar year.