MIAMI -- This was Rick Pitino's way of expressing appreciation for the chance Florida International gave his son. He brought his team to Miami, and blew out the Panthers.
Russ Smith scored 18 points, Wayne Blackshear added 13 and No. 6 Louisville won its sixth straight, easing past FIU 85-56 on Saturday night. The Cardinals never trailed and were rarely threatened, outside a couple of brief early stretches.
"We didn't play great basketball tonight, but we played good offense," Pitino said. "We were a little inept at times on defense, but offensively we did a good job in sharing the basketball and making sure that we did the right things to attack their changing defenses."
Smith had 12 in the first half for the Cardinals (11-1), who never trailed and were rarely threatened, outside of a couple brief early stretches where the game was tight.
"Played against a very good basketball team," FIU coach Anthony Evans said. "Thought we went out there and played good in spurts. I think their depth wore us down a little bit and they finished the game."
Rick Pitino decided to honor the contract and play FIU, offering to do so in Miami even after his son left the Panthers to take over at Minnesota after last season. When Richard Pitino left FIU, Louisville had the option of canceling the series.
"But they wanted to give us the game and we're very appreciative," FIU director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia said.
So were the Pitinos, for both how FIU hired the son of the Hall of Famer and never stood in his way when the Minnesota offer came.
"He's been so supportive of my son," Pitino said of Garcia. "And then supporting him when he left like that, I wanted to be loyal to him and come down and fulfill this contract."
There were plenty of potential pratfalls that could have grabbed at Louisville in this one.
First, it absolutely was the biggest game of FIU's season, considering the Panthers are ineligible for any postseason appearance because of academic sanctions.
The Cardinals had to avoid slipping into vacation mode, which likely wasn't easy since they checked into an upscale Miami Beach resort on Wednesday and aren't leaving until Monday.
Christmas is looming and when Louisville gets past that, the rivalry game against Kentucky awaits on Dec. 28.
But this is the way the Cardinals wanted it. Part of the reason they're in Miami, where Rick Pitino has lived part-time for nearly 20 years, is that they wanted an escape from the Kentucky showdown buzz. So there was no looking ahead, not to the holiday and not to Kentucky, either.
From the outset, Louisville was all business.
"We were in total lockdown," Rick Pitino said. "This will be the first night I allow them to stay up after 10 o'clock. We were in total lockdown."
Louisville opened the game on a 10-3 run, setting a tone where the Cardinals would only have to flex their muscle in short spurts to assert control. FIU scored the next six points, but the next Louisville run restored order in a hurry.
Montrezl Harrell, who finished with 10 points, had an alley-oop that left the basket shaking for a full 15 seconds afterward, a play that started a 12-0 run by the Cardinals and turned a 10-9 edge into a 22-9 gap.
FIU settled down and back-to-back 3-pointers by Buckles and Dennis Mavin got the Panthers within 30-25 late in the half. But the Cardinals had one last first-half flurry in them, ripping off the last nine points and capping that spurt with another alley-oop dunk by Harrell with just over a second remaining.
That sent Louisville into the locker room with a 39-25 lead, and there was no doubt from there.
"We were taking quick shots, ill-advised shots which led to fast breaks for them because they're so athletic," Evans said. "They got the dunk at the end. and our shot selection kind of hurt us a little bit."