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NCAA 2015

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UNLV vs Louisville

Louisville withstands test, hands UNLV first loss

CBSSports.com wire reports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Rick Pitino can stop wondering if his surprising team is legit. At least for now.

Preston Knowles scored all 20 of his points in the second half and No. 24 Louisville remained unbeaten with a 77-69 win over No. 20 UNLV on Saturday in the Billy Minardi Classic.

The victory gave the Cardinals (8-0) their first marquee win of the season. Louisville spent the early portion of its schedule overwhelming largely overmatched teams. Pitino pointed to the Rebels as an important test.

The Cardinals passed behind the play of Knowles, who shook off a miserable first half to play perhaps his best basketball of the year.

"We [proved] we can play with great competition," Knowles said. "UNLV is a great team. We don't want to hang our hat on this victory, but it was a great one."

Tre'Von Willis led the Rebels with 17 points and Oscar Bellfield added 16, but the Rebels saw their best start to a season in 20 years come to an end during a lifeless second half.

UNLV (9-1) appeared to be in command when a 3-pointer by Bellfield gave the Rebels a 45-36 lead with 16:51 to play. Things slowly unraveled, however, as the Rebels started missing shots and making turnovers. UNLV entered the game shooting 54 percent from the field, but shot just 9 of 21 (42 percent) after the break and turned it over 10 times in the second half.

"We missed a shot, started standing a little bit, turned it over a time or two and they got on a good roll and we weren't able to withstand that as well as we need to," said UNLV coach Lon Kruger.

Kyle Kuric started a game-turning 21-6 run with a 3-pointer before Knowles got going. He struggled in the first half, missing both of his shots in eight foul-troubled minutes. His confidence, however, was hardly shaken.

"My thing was getting the lead back and putting my team in a position to win," he said.

Knowles hit a pull-up jumper in the lane and a couple of free throws before blowing past Derrick Jasper, a former player at rival Kentucky, for a layup to tie the game at 49.

The Rebels went back in front on a jumper by Justin Hawkins, but Knowles hit a 3-pointer at the top of the key to put Louisville up 52-51. The senior added a runner in the lane and another 3-pointer to push the lead to 57-51.

UNLV had no response even after Louisville starting point guard Peyton Siva went to the bench with four fouls and 8:52 to go. The Cardinals didn't miss a beat when freshman Elisha Justice stepped in, slowly extending the lead behind solid defense that harassed one of the nation's top shooting teams.

"We didn't do the things we have to do to win," Kruger said. "We'll learn from this and pay more attention to details and get back and get better."

Smith knocked down a 3-pointer to push Louisville's lead to nine and Justice finished a break with a difficult layup to make it 68-57 with 4:48 remaining as the Cardinals silenced some of their doubters.

Pitino called the Rebels "legit" based on their solid start, which included wins over Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and Nevada, while he remained unsure about his team even as it dominated a soft schedule. He's called this a "bridge" season, saying it would lay the foundation for the program for years to come.

He softened his stance after the Cardinals beat the Rebels, whom he had called before the game the second-best team in the country behind No. 1 Duke.

"The future can be this year," he allowed.

Particularly if Louisville continues to get production from surprising places. Kuric and Chris Smith both scored 17 points off the bench to overcome a shaky performance by starters Rakeem Buckles, Terrence Jennings and Mike Marra.

Kuric entered the game with 17 points all season and had missed the last two games after sustaining a concussion in a win over Florida International. Smith, a transfer from Manhattan College, spent most of Louisville's first seven games playing with the second unit.

Yet both helped steady the Cardinals after an early onslaught by the Rebels. Louisville missed its first eight shots and appeared on its way to being blown out before Kuric and Smith got going.

Smith, the younger brother of Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smith, hit a 3-pointer and a runner in the lane to snap Louisville out of its early game funk and breathe some life into the Cardinals.

"It was a really big game for me," Smith said. "When I woke up this morning I had a mean face on like 'We have to win this game.' I was ready."

Still, UNLV ended the half on an 8-1 surge behind selfless passing. Bellfield and Jasper both knocked down 3-pointers after teammates passed up open shots to give the Rebels momentum heading into the break up 38-33.

It wouldn't last, as Knowles and company responded to keep Louisville unbeaten through eight games for the first time in Pitino's tenure.

"It's a big game because they are UNLV, they beat us two years in a row and they were ranked," Siva said. "We're just going out there with a tournament mindset."

Copyright 2015 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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Preston Knowles comes alive late, scoring all 20 of his points in the second half for the Cardinals. (Getty Images)
Preston Knowles comes alive late, scoring all 20 of his points in the second half for the Cardinals. (Getty Images)
UNLV #20 (9-1)383169
Louisville #24 (8-0) «334477
UNLV:T. Willis 17 Pts
UNLV:A. Marshall 11 Reb
UNLV:D. Jasper 3 Ast
LOU:P. Knowles 20 Pts
LOU:T. Jennings 7 Reb
LOU:P. Siva 7 Ast

Related Video

Oscar Bellfield
Chris Smith
UNLV Rebels
O. Bellfield, G365-82-252216
A. Marshall, G303-63-411339
D. Jasper, G283-92-233410
C. Stanback, G-F272-84-64048
Q. Thomas, F50-00-02010
T. Willis, G255-76-812317
B. Massamba, F-C230-11-24031
J. Hawkins, G203-51-22128
C. Lopez, F60-10-02020
T. Norman, GDid Not Play
K. Wallace, GDid Not Play
T. Hanni, GDid Not Play
M. Moser, FDid Not Play
M. Martinez, FDid Not Play
K. Mashour, G-FDid Not Play
Totals 21-4519-2634112469
Louisville Cardinals
T. Jennings, F292-42-37236
P. Siva, G272-45-92759
P. Knowles, G256-116-622520
R. Buckles, F160-30-13030
M. Marra, G160-90-04010
C. Smith, G326-92-462017
K. Kuric, G315-112-250317
E. Justice, G131-42-21034
G. Goode, F92-30-03004
S. Van Treese, F20-00-00000
J. Swopshire, FDid Not Play
G. Dieng, CDid Not Play
R. Smith, GDid Not Play
T. Henderson, GDid Not Play
M. Jackson, GDid Not Play
Totals 24-5819-2733132377
Mountain West
TeamConf. W-LTot. W-LRPI Rank
San Diego St14-427-926
Boise St.14-425-940
Colorado St.13-527-729
Utah St.11-718-13144
Fresno St.10-814-17183
New Mexico7-1115-16172
Air Force6-1214-17240
San Jose St.0-182-28336

Conference USA
TeamConf. W-LTot. W-LRPI Rank
La. Tech15-327-958
Old Dominion13-527-846
Western Ky.12-620-12117
Middle Tenn.9-919-17139
UT-San Antonio8-1014-16237
North Texas8-1014-17224
So. Miss4-149-20283
Other games
STL 47 Final
OAK 76 Final
Mich St 77
EKY 58 Final
Minn 71
Tenn 83 Final
Texas St 65 Final
Texas 101
K-State 68 Final
Wash 62 Final
Tx A&M 63
PRES 55 Final
Missouri 70
Indiana 62 Final
Kentucky 81
Arizona 65 Final
BYU 87
NORFL 57 Final
Purdue 77
Colo St 55 Final
Kansas 76
COLG 43 Final
Syracuse 100
GONZ 79 Final
ND 83
S Diego 49 Final