LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – What a difference a Ray makes.

When Ray Spalding plays the way he did Saturday afternoon, the University of Louisville basketball team looks like a group with places to go more than it looks like a team with things to figure out.

The junior out of Trinity High School took just one shot in the game’s first nine minutes, a three-pointer. Over the final 30, he went 8 of 12 from the field and finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds to lead Louisville from an early 8-point deficit to a 74-56 victory before a crowd of 16,841.

“It makes the game so much easier when he looks like a pro out there,” sophomore Ryan McMahon said. “It opens up so many different areas in our offense, and on defense he’s just a maniac. He gets his hands on everything. He blocks shots. He erases so many mistakes defensively. We’ve just got to keep him out of foul trouble.”

Said Grand Canyon coach Dan Majerle: “He really took the game over.”

PHOTO GALLERY | Louisville beats Grand Canyon

This one gave a bit of a new twist to the meaning of “home” game. The Cardinals got 54 percent of their points and just over 58 percent of their rebounds from three Louisville-area products.

In addition to Spalding’s big game, the Cards got 12 points and five assists from senior Quentin Snider and seven points and five boards in 18 minutes from Dwayne Sutton.

The result was that those three can stay home for Christmas happy, and the Cards can head home from the break having comfortably put away a game Padgett said he stayed up worrying about, given its timing and the ability of Grand Canyon to make three-pointers in bunches.

“I was sweating this game horribly,” Padgett said. “As bad as I had any game all year.”

The way the game started, it looked as if he might need to sweat some more. It took Louisville nearly four minutes to score. The Cards opened just 1-10 from three-point range and trailed by eight points after 6 ½ minutes.

Of course, they’re used to that. They gathered themselves, and started to drive into the lane on offense, and their defense was pretty solid throughout. They went on a 21-3 run, and Grand Canyon never seriously threatened after that.

A game after the Cards were bullied on the offensive boards by Albany, Spalding made sure he stayed out of foul trouble and stayed on the court, and pulled down 10 defensive rebounds in 36 minutes.

“He basically took it upon himself to cure our (rebounding) woes, at least for this game,” Padgett said.

At one point, Spalding said he came to the bench and asked assistant coach Trent Johnson, “What’s the rebound count.”

Johnson told him, “I think they’re ahead by three or four.”

Funny. I bet that’s always his answer. Whatever the case, Spalding would go back in and grab a few more.

“I think we did a good job focusing on that part of the game,” Spalding said. “Especially after we got outrebounded the other night. . . . The biggest thing for me is just having an attacking mindset and wanting the ball. That’s when things get going for me.”

And when things get going for Spalding, they get going for Louisville.

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It wasn’t a great shooting day for the Cardinals. They made just 4 of 19 three-point tries, after averaging more than 10 a game for four straight games. But their defense has improved. They have begun to limit their turnovers, with just 12 against Grand Canyon after having only seven against Albany.

Overall, Padgett said he’s happy with where his team is heading home for the Christmas break.

“I’m so, very, proud of our guys,” Padgett said. “We slipped up once at home in the non-conference slate against Seton Hall, but other than that we took care of business. Some of them were probably a lot more stressful than I had hoped. But nonetheless, a pretty good start overall.”

Louisville again seemed to play better in the second half after a slow start.

“I’ve thought about that a lot, and I don’t have an answer for it,” Padgett said. “All I’m glad about is that it’s not the other way around. I’m glad we don’t get off to great starts and then all of a sudden we’re horrible in the second half. We missed too many threes – Deng’s first two to start the game were pretty darn good looks. Ryan McMahon missed a couple. I think Q missed one. But we found a way to respond. And if Ray Spalding plays like that, we have a chance to have a very special year.”

Adel finished with 14 points on 5-14 shooting. The Cards also got 7 points each from Anas Mahmoud and V.J. King. McMahon only had three points on 1-5 shooting, but grabbed three steals and four rebounds, and also dished out of a pair of assists in 14 minutes.

Now the Cards will get a two-day break before resume preparations for Friday’s rivalry game at Kentucky.

Before the game was even over Saturday, the “Beat UK” chant was filling the KFC Yum! Center.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Spalding said. “It’s one of the great places in the country to play, one of the great rivalries to be a part of.”

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