The WKU men’s basketball team (6-2) trailed by only nine points with 9:35 left to play against No. 2 Louisville (7-0) on Black Friday, but the Cardinals outscored the Hilltoppers 20-12 for the rest of the contest and handed WKU a 71-54 loss in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
For the first time in WKU’s young 2019-20 season, the Hilltoppers never led in their neutral-site matchup with in-state rival Louisville, as the Hilltoppers shot 37% from the field and only made 1-of-17 shots from distance for a 5.9% shooting percentage from beyond the arc.
Although the Hilltoppers and Cardinals hadn’t met on the hardwood since 2015, WKU was 5-4 all-time against Louisville on a neutral court going into its latest contest with the Cardinals.
WKU’s last win in the heated rivalry was a 68-54 upset over the third-ranked Cardinals in Nashville on Nov. 30, 2008, but head coach Rick Stansbury couldn’t lead the Hilltoppers to another upset in his first time coaching against Louisville.
Louisville now leads the all-time series 41-39 over WKU, and the Cardinals will likely be the new No. 1 team in the country on Monday because Duke — the current No. 1 team — lost to unranked Stephen F. Austin 85-83 in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday.
“They don’t have a lot of holes,” Stansbury said postgame. “I said this a couple of weeks ago. I’ve watched some teams play. I thought they did two things better did anyone in the country. They’ve got multiple weapons and they’ve got multiple big guys they can throw it to in that paint. Not a lot of teams have those kind of things. The ability to score from all five possessions, makes it very difficult.”
The Hilltoppers didn’t attempt a single free throw in the first half, but WKU shot 13 for 14 from the charity stripe in the second half.
WKU forced the Cardinals into 14 turnovers, which led to 18 points coming off turnovers.
Junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth led the Hilltoppers with 16 points in 37 minutes of action, while sophomore center Charles Bassey finished with 14 rebounds and nine rebounds.
“It was a tough one,” Hollingsworth said postgame. “You’re going to have games where you’re on and off, but you know, these type of games, you don’t want to be off. But we’re going to learn from that. We are going to get at it in practice and make shots.”
The Cardinals shot 44.2% from the floor and shot 90% from the free-throw line. Louisville outrebounded the Hilltoppers 39-25 and was able to score 16 second-chance points, compared to six from WKU.
Junior forward Jordan Nwora led the Cardinals with 25 points and four 3-pointers in 34 minutes of action.
Redshirt senior Dwayne Sutton added 15 points and seven rebounds on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor.
“Bassey,” Louisville head coach Chris Mack said about why WKU was able to cut the Louisville lead to nine points in the second half.
“Our turnovers, and then you give credit to the other team. I thought they did a good job on switching on some of our off-the-ball screening action and we didn’t come up in that instance that you’re talking about with second and third shots that we did maybe a little later on. They’re a good team and good teams are going to make runs.”
Louisville scored the first points of the evening when Nwora dribbled in the paint and finished his right-handed shot of the glass.
The Cardinals fired out to an explosive 9-0 run to begin the contest before Hollingsworth ended the run at the 15:56 mark by sinking a midrange jumper from the left side of the court.
Louisville controlled the tempo for the early part of the game, as the Cardinals pushed their lead out to 16-5 at the 14:08 mark when Nwora drained a three from the top of the key.
The Cardinals continued to increase their lead by hitting the three ball, as Sutton knocked down a 3-pointer to give Louisville a 28-9 lead at the 8:41 mark.
Stansbury was forced to call a timeout after Sutton’s 3-pointer, and the Hilltoppers responded after the timeout by going on a 7-0 run to cut into Louisville's 28-15 lead.
But Nwora would extend the Cardinals’ lead by hitting his third 3-pointer of the contest, giving him 11 points through the first 13 minutes of the game.
After shooting 57.1% to start the game, Louisville struggled to find the bottom of the net, as they finished the half going 1 for 7 in their final possessions. The Cardinals shot 43.3% from the floor in the first half.
Nwora and Sutton alone outscored the Hilltoppers 25-23 in the first half, giving the Cardinals a 37-23 advantage through the first 20 minutes of action.
Part of Louisville’s success in the first half came from forcing WKU into 10 turnovers and only allowing the Hilltoppers to shoot 37.9% from the field. The Cardinals also took away WKU’s 3-point game, as the Hilltoppers shot 1-of-10 from distance in the first half.
Coming into the contest, WKU had made 132 free throws compared to only 82 attempts by its opponents, but the Hilltoppers didn’t attempt a free throw against Louisville in the first half.
Louisville scored the first points of the second half, coming off a midrange jumper from Nwora.
Bassey only scored six points in the first half, but he doubled his first-half line by scoring on WKU’s next three possessions to cut the Louisville lead to just 41-29 at the 17:46 mark.
Junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth scored WKU’s first free throws of the contest at the 16:09 mark.
While Bassey scored on three straight possessions, Louisville matched Bassey’s effort by scoring on its next three straight possessions to maintain a 43-29 at the 16:18 mark.
Louisville kept its lead between a 10- to 13-point margin throughout the first nine minutes of the second half, but the Hilltoppers would eventually cut the Cardinal lead to double-digits at 51-42 for the first time since Louisville led 13-5 at the 14:20 mark of the first half.
The Cardinals responded in a big way, going on a 7-0 run to increase their lead to 58-42 at the 7:44 mark when Nwora sank a 3-pointer.
As WKU went 1-of-10 from the floor for a portion of the second half, Louisville would take its largest lead of the game at time, giving them a 64-44 advantage with 5:36 left in the game.
Louisville closed out the game by posting a 17-point margin of victory against the Hilltoppers.
Following the loss, WKU will get several days of rest before travelling to Dayton, Ohio, to play a road matchup against 2019 Horizon League runner-up Wright State (6-2) early next week.
The Hilltoppers and Raiders will square off in the Nutter Center at 6 p.m. on Dec. 3.
The game will be streamed live for ESPN+ subscribers.