LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The most alarming thing about Louisville’s start to this basketball season has not been the losses to Purdue and Seton Hall.

The most alarming thing has been nights like the first half Wednesday night, when the Cardinals made a raggedy group like Siena appear as formidable as Duke or North Carolina before finally applying the sleeper hold.

The Cardinals trailed a team ranked 278th in one computer power formula by four points late in the first half, before they steadied and thundered to a 86-60 win at the KFC Yum! Center. Don't be too dazzled by the final score. U of L coach David Padgett certainly wasn't.

Louisville freshman Jordan Nwora said that Padgett was so perturbed with his team's play in the first half that he snapped a clipboard during one timeout.

On a 1-to-10 scale, how angry was your coach?

"Probably an 8," Dwayne Sutton said.

"Definitely a 10," Nwora said. "That was as upset as I've ever seen him."

How unsatisfied was Padgett? 

Anas Mahmoud delivered a career night, scoring 17 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. The rebound total was his best as a Cardinal. The point total tied his career best. When Padgett pulled him from the game with 3:38 to play, Mahmoud needed one block for a triple double. Padgett said Mahmoud did many good things, but certainly could have played better.

"I didn't think he played that great of a game," Padgett said.

The coach never considered putting him back in the game for one more block. 

"The only statistic we're interested in is the final score," Padgett said. "I wasn't going to put him back in the game."

Three other Louisville players scored in double figures: guard Quentin Snider (16), Raymond Spalding (10) and Nwora (11). Snider shot the ball efficiently, making all six free throws as well as two of three from distance. The Cardinals were 7 of 19 from the three-point line.

"They're really long and athletic," Siena coach Jimmy Patsos said. "They're going to get better."

They need to get better, especially against teams that won't come within several Zip Codes of making the NCAA Tournament, like Siena. Losing to Purdue and Seton Hall? That happens.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Boilermakers or the Pirates in the Sweet Sixteen. They’re solid, veteran teams, and the Cardinals (5-2) played both into the final minutes. They were a jump shot away from beating Seton Hall Sunday.

This is what has been alarming about Louisville’s start: the closer than expected moments against George Mason, Omaha, St. Francis and, now, Siena.

The Cards beat George Mason by 11. Louisiana Tech beat the Patriots by 13. The Cards handled Omaha by nine. New Mexico beat the same team by 32.

Louisville dispatched St. Francis by a dozen. Gulp. On Tuesday Duke beat the same squad by 57.

On Wednesday the Cardinals played the No. 2 lightweight on its schedule – Siena. Only Bryant has a worse power rating.

The Cardinals failed to treat the Saints like the unimposing team they are – a team that starts three freshmen, a team without a starter taller than 6 feet 8 and a team that had already suffered three 20-point defeats.

The Cards surged to a 12-2 lead in the first three minutes – and then stalled. Siena counterpunched by attacking the basket and working the glass aggressively, outrebounding Louisville 9-5 in the first eight minutes. Louisville led 17-15 at the second media timeout. But understand that this game was a dogfight for more than 25 minutes.

"We lost our focus," Mahmoud said.

Somehow Siena was ahead by four after the third media timeout. Somehow Louisville was ahead by only three at halftime, and Siena is a team that trailed Bucknell by 20 at halftime.

OK, it was not somehow. There were certainly reasons. Louisville was outrebounded 21-19 in the first half by a smaller, less athletic team that ranked 198th in the nation in rebounding margin. Sammy Friday, a reserve forward, grabbed 15 rebounds, 10 on the offensive glass. Friday averaged less than 3 rebounds in Siena's first seven games.

The Cardinals threw the ball away 11 times against an opponent that was forcing fewer than 10 turnovers per game.

That’s concentration. That’s focus. That’s not playing with an edge.

That’s also alarming.

Padgett was alarmed. That's why he was upset with his team at halftime. He should have been upset.

"He looked at me and said, 'Are you kidding me?' " Mahmoud said.

One play characterized the issue midway through the first half. Louisville got outworked by the smaller Saints for an offensive rebound, one 10 offensive boards the visitors collected in the opening 20 minutes.

Then a Siena player was the first guy on the floor for a loose ball. He desperately pitched the ball to a three-point shooter. U of L freshman guard Darius Perry unnecessarily fouled Khalil Richard on the attempt. Lax team effort. Bad technique.

In the second half, the Cardinals played like a team that did not want to be embarrassed by a loss or even questioned about a close call. Ahead 48-47 with about 15 ½ minutes to play, Louisville scored 18 consecutive points to wash away any fear of a brutal upset.

"Much better effort in the second half, needless to say," Padgett said. "We did a much better job of limiting them to one shot. We just played with a little bit more sense of urgency than we did in the first half."

"We hung in there by effort but they picked it up," Patsos said.

The Cardinals shared the ball. They attacked the glass. They got a three-point shot from Perry. They defended the rim. They stopped Siena from feasting on offensive rebounds. They outrebounded the visitors, 24-18. They played like the team they were predicted to be, one of the five or six best in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Louisville has two more home games before it makes a trip to Madison Square Garden next week to play Memphis. Indiana will visit Saturday at 2 p.m. Bryant, ranked 332nd by Pomeroy, arrives Monday.

They need to play 40 good minutes, not 15. Against the Hoosiers as well as against Bryant Bulldogs.

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