LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Maybe it was the long video session that acting head coach Mike Pegues put the team through after last Sunday's too-close-for-comfort win over Detroit Mercy. Maybe it was a players-only meeting Monday night, or a trip to a water park after the team arrived in the Bahamas on Wednesday.
Whatever it was, University of Louisville basketball fans have reason to be thankful. If the thrashing the Cardinals put on Mississippi State on Thanksgiving Night wasn't easy to see ahead of time, it was something to behold in real-time. The Cardinals, for 30 minutes, toyed with the Bulldogs before coasting to a 72-58 win in the semifinals of the Baha Hoops Bahamas Championship in Nassau.
Louisville advances to face Maryland, which came from behind to beat Richmond 86-80 in Thursday's first game. That game will tip at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
The Cardinals (4-1) led by as many as 28 points and frustrated a previously unbeaten Mississippi State team into 33.3 percent shooting from the field and 1-for-15 from behind the 3-point line.
The Cardinals led by as many as 28 before easing home in the final 10 minutes.
"You know what?" Pegues said. "It's because I let them go to the water park on Wednesday morning. You know, sometimes I can be a pretty hard guy. And I felt like it was a no-brainer that we had to let these guys breathe a little bit, you know. I leaned on them pretty good in the days leading up to (the trip), and it just worked out schedule-wise that after breakfast on Wednesday, breakfast at 10, I want to say from 10:30 to almost 2:30, those guys were allowed to have some downtime. And I think it was good and refreshing for everybody to kind of get away. I even went down the slide myself. And it was exhilarating. And it was good. And Kenny Klein filmed it. Nobody else will see it but me. But we got away for four hours. And the guys were happy and I think that everybody kind of decompressed. And thankfully so, because we came out and played really hard and really well today."
Louisville was in control from the outset. While they weren't clicking offensively early, they shut down Mississippi State, got two quick fouls on star point guard Iverson Molinar, and took control of the glass.
"They came out and really out-physicaled us early in the game with their defense and made it very hard for us to handle their pressure and their physicality," MSU coach Ben Howland said. "We've got to learn from this and be more physical and be tougher. . . . They had 25 points out of the three spot between (Dre) Davis and (Samuell) Williamson off the bench which is way too many. . . . So we've got to obviously learn from this game."
Williamson led Lousiville with 15 points, Davis added 12 and Jae'lyn Withers had 11. Malik Williams had 10 rebounds to go with eight points.
The Cards won despite an off night from leading scorer Noah Locke. The Florida transfer finished with just 2 points on 1-of-9 shooting.
Williamson said the players weren't satisfied with their performance last Sunday against Detroit Mercy, and had a meeting on Monday to clear the air.
"You know, we looked ourselves in the mirror and we all said, "How can I be better?'" Williamson said. "We had a meeting, Monday night players only, we kind of just hashed everything out for about an hour and a half. So, you know, we are just telling each other what we need to do better, on and off the court, from an energy standpoint, on the bench. You know, a lot of different things defensively. Our identity is going to be on the defensive end this year. And you know, like I said, I feel like at times tonight we showed flashes of what we're capable of. . . . Everybody's talking about the new offense and everything. We've just got to stay true to our defensive principles. The new offense is going to come, and when we get both sides of bar clicking, I think's going to be very scary."
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