LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — You know why Texas Southern was invited to the KFC Yum! Center to play Rick Pitino’s University of Louisville basketball team Saturday afternoon, right?

To earn the school’s $90,000 guarantee check, provide a whisper of resistance and drag a loss back to Houston.

Make the Cardinals work? Certainly. Make the Cardinals sweat? Perhaps. 

But leave a stain on Louisville’s NCAA Tournament resume?

No way.

Davis’s team lost to Arizona by 22 points 10 days ago. Davis’s team won’t play its first home game until Jan. 14. 

The Cardinals won, 102-71, forcing 10 more turnovers than the nine U of L committed. Nothing wrong with a 31-point win on a day Ken Pomeroy’s projected margin of victory for the Cardinals was 20.

Pomeroy's formula remains in love with Louisville. It has the Cards favored in their next seven games, including Kentucky (by 2), Virginia (by 3), Indiana (by 3) and Notre Dame (by one.).

But Rick Pitino's players will tell you that what worked against Texas Southern won't work against Top 25 competition.

Can Louisville beat teams like Kentucky (Dec. 21) and Virginia (Dec. 28)at home  with performances like this performance?

“Not at all,” said Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell. “We came out very flat. They had the energy. They had the momentum. 

“If we came out with that type of energy against any team from the ACC, it’s going to be a long night for us.”

“We have to play 100 percent better,” forward Jaylen Johnson said.

Correct. For most of the first half the Tigers misread the memo and Louisville played like a team in a hurry to go somewhere to watch Lamar Jackson win the Heisman Trophy.

The visitors lead for more than half of the first nine minutes — and did it with a 5-foot-7 (more likely 5-5) freshman point guard. Demontrae Jefferson, the tiny leader who scrambled his way to 27 points, launching 30 shots to get there.

Get this: Texas Southern’s Derrick Griffin dominated the boards, collecting 26 rebounds,15 on the offensive glass. It was a rebounding record in the KFC Yum! Center as well as the first time an opposing player has grabbed more than 20 rebounds against Louisville since 1994.

“That guy took us to the woodshed on the glass,” Pitino said. 

Did Pitino mention’s Griffin’s work on the glass after the game?

“What do you think?” said Louisville center Anas Mahmoud, who missed the game while recovering from a concussion.

How quickly?

“Right away,” Mahmoud said.

The Cardinals got outworked and outmuscled. Texas Southern had three dunks before Louisville had three field goals. They added two more dunks in the next five minutes.

Attention, please: Kentucky and Virginia visit this building over the next 18 days. Louisville will not survive letting those teams rebound 63 percent (30 of 48) of their missed shots.

“We definitely have a long way to go,” Pitino said. “I really don’t have a great feel for this team.”

If Louisville does not shoot straighter and rebound more relentlessly than this, then warning lights will be flashing around the Cardinals (9-1) as they push into Atlantic Coast Conference play. And, yes, I realize six Louisville players scored in double figures (led by Quentin Snider’s 15) and that the Cardinals averaged a robust 1.36 points per possession.

The Cards shot 50 percent in the second half, beat Texas Southern as badly as the Tigers have been beaten all season and made 11 three-point shots, a season high.

But that was not the early vibe.

Louisville missed its first seven field goal attempts. The Cardinals first counted basket was whistled through the nets on a goal-tending. 

Quentin Snider finally delivered the first jumper that registered on the scoreboard on Louisville’s 10th field goal attempt. Nearly five minutes had been played. 

Louisville made less than 40 percent of its shots in the first half. Flat-footed, lifeless rebounding won’t work, even against a smaller, less athletic team from a one-bid NCAA Tournament league. 

Don’t believe me. Texas Southern rebounded 18 of its 27 missed shots in the first half. Drop your calculator. That’s two out of every three. Mike Davis has a nice, athletic forward in Griffin, a former FBS football player. 

But Griffin is not Bam Adebayo. Still, Griffin had a dozen rebounds in the first half, seven on the offensive glass.

The Cardinals won because their calling card has remained the same all season. They will defend. They will block shots. They do have a bench ready, willing and able to contribute.

But the offense needs more time in the shop. Deng Adel started the game a 36 percent shooter — and missed his first four shots.Mitchell has been a 30 percent three-point shooter. He missed his first three shots from distance.

Adel and Mitchell rallied — Adel with a pair of field goals from distance sprinkled into his 11 points. Credit Mitchell with a dozen points, three assists, four steals and no turnovers.

Freshman V.J. King did not start, but performed like a guy who should be in the lineup more when the serious basketball begins. He made five of eight shots, scoring 13 points.

The Cards have a week of practice and final exams ahead. They return to the KFC Yum! Center to play Eastern Kentucky (and former Card Dillon Avare) next Saturday at noon.

“It’s always good to learn from mistakes in a victory,” Mitchell said. “That’s what coach always says. 

“We have great perimeter defense. We just have to start boxing out and getting to the backboard better. Our offense is getting there too.”

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