LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville coach Rick Pitino told his team there would be nights like this.
The 24th-ranked Cardinals shot only 36.1 percent from the field -- leading scorer Mike Marra was 1 for 10 -- and led San Francisco by one point at halftime. They persevered because of their defense.
Louisville outscored the Dons 36-11 in the second half on its way to a 61-35 victory in front of 21,049 at the KFC Yum! Center.
Peyton Siva and Terrence Jennings both scored 14 points for the Cardinals (7-0). Both were 5 for 8 from the field, while their teammates were a combined 12 for 45 (26.7 percent).
"Coach said, 'Sometimes the shots don't go in,'" said Jennings, a 6-foot-10 junior center who grabbed nine rebounds. "We knew we had to keep playing defense, keep getting stops. ... Sometimes there's a lid on the rim, you have to expect that and try to get stops as much as possible."
The Cardinals led 25-24 at halftime against the undermanned Dons (3-5) before holding them to five field goals in the second half.
Siva sparked a 16-0 run by Louisville, hitting two 3-pointers and assisting on an inside basket early in the second half. The Cardinals cruised from there as they outscored San Francisco 36-11 in the second half.
Chris Smith added 11 points and Preston Knowles had 10 for Louisville, which committed a season-low five turnovers while forcing 16 to outscore San Francisco 21-0 in points off turnovers.
The Cardinals shot only 36.1 percent (22 for 61) from the field, but held the Dons to 31.1 percent (14 for 45), including 21.7 percent (5 for 23) in the second half.
"What I told them at halftime is there is always a tournament game when shots aren't falling and you are going to have to win it with defense," Pitino said. "And they did it in the second half, they won it with defense. Peyton Siva gave us a big run off his defense and were able to extend the lead."
Michael Williams led the Dons with 14 points.
Louisville scored the first nine points of the game as San Francisco turned the ball over on its first three possessions.
Siva, a sophomore point guard, accounted for seven of his team's first nine points with an assist, a 3-pointer and a dunk off a steal. He finished with five assists and four steals.
The Dons went without a field goal for the first 4:29, but San Francisco, with only eight players in uniform, scrapped its way back in the game.
Trailing 20-8 at the 10-minute mark the Dons went to their spread offense and outscored Louisville 16-5 over the remainder of the first half.
Williams' 3-pointer with 1:02 left tied the score at 24 before Siva hit one free throw with 4.9 seconds remaining to give Louisville a 25-24 lead.
The Cardinals, who settled for jump shots against San Francisco's zone after taking a 20-8 lead, shot 37 percent (10 for 27) in the first half and were just 4 for 17 (23.5 percent) from 3-point range.
"I just think our guys were so consumed with our shots not falling that they were forgetting that we made seven mishaps defensively, not switching at the right time, not guarding the post the right way," Pitino said.
"All because we were taken out, because this is a young team, an inexperienced team ... because inexperience isn't an excuse anymore ... an inexperienced team that didn't realize defense wins. So we broke down defensively and they shot, in the first half, one of the highest percents against us this season. So we made adjustments, so let's start thinking defense and not offense."
The teams traded baskets to start the second half before the Cardinals went on a 16-0 run.
"The second half we just decided we were going to turn it up on D and rely on our D to get this win," said sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles, who had 10 rebounds as the Cardinals outrebounded the Dons 44-36.
Louisville shot 35.3 percent (12 for 34) in the second half, hitting 6 for 19 (31.6 percent) from 3-point range. San Francisco was 0 for 8 from long range in the second half.
"We couldn't get a whole lot going in the second half," San Francisco coach Rex Walters said. "They're pretty darn good. We spent so much energy on the defensive end, and you get nothing easy. ... Tired legs equal bad shots. I told our guys, 'You couldn't have a worse situation -- a Top 25 team, athletic, playing at a great arena, sometimes you feel like you're out there playing 5-on-8."