LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville coach Rick Pitino wanted his short-handed Cardinals to press from the start, figuring that Long Beach State might be weary after traveling from its previous game in Montana.
Chris Smith scored 18 points and the sixth-ranked Cardinals got the fast start they wanted, but never dominated in a 79-66 victory on Monday night for their 14th straight victory at the KFC Yum! Center.
"We got the pace we wanted, finally," Pitino said. "We ran out of gas in the second half because we haven't practiced that pace. All we've been trying to do in practice is just execute and stay away from injuries. We've gotten a little out of shape to be playing that racehorse type basketball game."
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Louisville (6-0) scored the first eight points of the game and took a double-digit lead early in the first half, but couldn't pull away from Long Beach State (3-3) until the closing minute even though the 49ers never got closer than five points in the second half.
"We never put pressure on them to get a lead," Long Beach State coach Dan Monson said. "They were always playing relaxed. When you have a good team like that playing relaxed, it's awfully tough to stop."
Freshman Chane Behanan had 13 points and seven rebounds for Louisville, which has dealt with multiple injuries so far and was without another player when reserve guard Elisha Justice didn't dress after he broke his nose when he was hit by a ball.
"(Justice) breaks his nose, and he's got a helmet on in practice," Pitino said. "We've got guys wearing helmets."
Larry Anderson scored 17 points for the 49ers before fouling out.
Louisville has never been close to healthy, though the return of point guard Peyton Siva has been important. Siva looked much more explosive in his second game since missing two with a severely sprained left ankle.
The Cardinals face their biggest test of the season so far on Friday night when they host No. 20 Vanderbilt as part of the SEC-Big East challenge.
However, they're still missing many contributors, including Justice.
Forward Rakeem Buckles (right knee) has returned to practice, but guard Mike Marra (left knee) and forward Stephan Van Treese (left knee) are out indefinitely.
Long Beach State trailed 55-40 after Jared Swopshire tipped in a miss by Kyle Kuric and Smith found Behanan on a feed down low for a dunk for Louisville. The 49ers rallied with a 9-0 run and Siva picked up his fourth foul in the stretch before Swopshire ended it with a dunk.
Long Beach State answered again, easily breaking Louisville's press as Casper Ware converted a three-point play that cut the Cardinals' lead to 57-52 following a pass from Mike Caffey with 8:35 left.
Smith hit a 3-pointer in the corner and Kuric hit two free throws to stretch the lead back to 65-55 with 5:35 to play. It remained in the range until the end as both teams struggled with foul trouble down the stretch.
"It felt good because we actually tried to get into our real game, our transition flow," Smith said. "I mean, it feels good to put points up on the board because people have been looking at the score like, `Huh, Louisville only scores 50 points. Man, who is that?"'
Russ Smith and Siva finished with 11 points apiece and Swopshire had 10 for Louisville. Ware, the reigning Big West player of the year, finished with 13 points and eight assists, while T.J. Robinson and James Ennis scored 12 each for the 49ers.
Louisville defense was finally tested after the Cardinals came in giving up 46 points per game, third-lowest in the nation, and allowing opponents to shoot 30.7 percent from the field.
The 49ers had 46 points with more than 10 minutes left and had already beaten a Big East team on the road when they defeated then-No. 9 Pittsburgh 86-76 on Nov. 16 for their first win over a top 25 opponent since 1994.
Even though Long Beach State shot 45 percent, the Cardinals forced 21 turnovers while only committing 11 and scored 27 points off the 49ers' mistakes.
"Our issue was the turnovers," Monson said. "We played a little better defensively in the second half, but 79 points is a lot to give up on the road."
Siva was 0 for 7 in a win over Ohio on Friday night, but he looked much better against the 49ers with assists on Louisville's first three baskets as part of an 8-0 run to start the game.
Siva made his first jumper, a 3-pointer, to give the Cardinals a 13-4 lead, but he got into foul trouble, picking up his second with 12:46 in the first half and had two more early in the second half, too.
Louisville led by as many as 16 in the first half, but was never comfortable until the end.
"I'd rather learn my lessons when we win than lose," Pitino said.