LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville coach Rick Pitino gave his starting lineup a makeover after the 20th-ranked Cardinals were pushed around by Drexel on Tuesday night.
Pitino benched junior center Terrence Jennings and gave freshman Gorgui Dieng the first start of his career. The coach's order was simple: get after the ball or get off the court.
The Cardinals responded with a 78-49 win over Gardner-Webb on Saturday in a spirited bounce back performance that helped take some of the sting out of the disappointing loss to Drexel earlier in the week.
"More than anything else, we wanted to rebound and act like junkyard dogs," Pitino said. "I wanted everybody to rebound the basketball."
That meant everybody, guards included.
Preston Knowles responded with a career-high 24 points and nine rebounds while Dieng added eight points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks as the Cardinals (9-1) used a 20-0 first-half run to put away the overmatched Runnin' Bulldogs early.
"We wanted to come in with the mentality to get every rebound," Knowles said. "We played great together. If we stay together, the sky's the limit."
Laron Buggs led Gardner-Webb (6-8) with 16 points, but the Runnin' Bulldogs couldn't find the same magic they used three years ago when they knocked off Kentucky.
Knowles and Dieng made sure of it, keying a dominant defensive effort that limited Gardner-Webb to 31 percent shooting, blocked 14 shots and came up with seven steals.
"Gorgui tries to be a factor every time down the floor," Pitino said. "Because of his length he can erase a lot of mistakes."
Not that there were many to go around on Saturday.
Buoyed by the changes Pitino promised were coming after Louisville was destroyed in the paint by the Dragons on Tuesday, the Cardinals played with the kind of relentlessness it lacked against Drexel, which outrebounded Louisville by 20 on its way to a 52-46 win.
Pitino was so incensed by the loss he spent 36 hours stewing over it, a good 12 hours beyond the window he typically gives himself.
Looking for a spark he put Dieng in the lineup. The 6-foot-10 native of Senegal is struggling to pick up the nuances of the game, particularly when it comes to knowing where to go on offense.
Yet Pitino didn't put Dieng in the lineup because of his offensive skills. Though skinny, Dieng has become adept at using his massive wingspan to snatch rebounds. He came in averaging 4.0 boards in limited playing time and more than doubled that total in the first half.
"I don't think he knows a lot about what he's doing," Pitino said of Dieng. "He really listens. The most important thing is he tries to rebound every shot."
There were plenty of Gardner-Webb misses to go around. The Runnin' Bulldogs missed 12 straight shots during Louisville's big run.
"Give those guys credit, I thought they played hard and played together and crushed us on the glass," Gardner-Webb coach Chris Holtmann said. "They were all over the glass. They beat us to almost every 50-50 ball."
The Cardinals outrebounded Gardner-Webb 45-26, outscored the Runnin' Bulldogs 30-14 in the paint and made Gardner-Webb work to get off shots.
Dieng started the game-deciding burst with a layup off a nice feed from Peyton Siva and Mike Marra -- mired in a miserable 1-for-21 slump over the last three games -- drove the baseline for another lay-in and the Cardinals were off to the races.
Gardner-Webb went more than 8 minutes without making a field goal, and by the time Keith Manley ended the drought with a lay-up the Runnin' Bulldogs trailed 29-11.
It was all the cushion Louisville would need, and the benching appeared to get Jennings' attention. He was active on both ends of the court after getting pushed around in the lane by Drexel, finishing with six points, four rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes.
The Cardinals played without sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles, who watched from the bench after suffering a concussion against Drexel. Freshman point guard Elisha Justice spent the second half in the training after taking an elbow to the face.
Buckles is expected to play Wednesday when the Cardinals travel to Western Kentucky.
The win will send Pitino to Miami in a good mood. He's negotiating with Puerto Rico basketball officials to coach the national team in the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament in Argentina next summer. He plans to meet with players and officials to gauge the enthusiasm level of the program.
Puerto Rico officials have scheduled a news conference on Monday in Miami to introduce the new coach, who will be tasked with getting the country into the 2012 Summer Olympics in London after it failed to qualify for the 2008 Games in Beijing.