Louisville handles Samford 86-45, wins 12 straight opener
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) The Louisville players have been eager for the season to start. Whether that's just the usual excitement of a new year or the chance to shift attention from recent allegations that have rocked the program doesn't matter.
The Cardinals easily dismissed Samford 86-45 on Friday night to win its 12th straight season opener and bring the city's focus back to the basketball court.
''Ask everyone on this team, we've all been waiting for November 13th to finally get here,'' Damion Lee said. ''All we have to do is build from this and move forward.''
Lee, a graduate transfer from Drexel, and freshman Donovan Mitchell each scored 14 points in their first games at Louisville (1-0).
Christen Cunningham led Samford (0-1) with 15 points, hitting all nine of his foul shots. The Bulldogs shot just 21 percent (13 of 62). It was the lowest output for a Louisville opponent since Savannah State shot 20 percent on November 24, 2014.
Friday's game comes about six weeks after the program and the community were stunned by escort Katina Powell's allegations in a book that former Cardinals staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers for sex parties with recruits and players from 2010-14.
Four investigations have been launched since the release of ''Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen,'' including reviews by the athletic department and the NCAA.
The sex scandal has created a cloud over the program and led to calls for coach Rick Pitino's resignation. Pitino has denied knowledge of the activities described in the book and vows to stay on. The Hall of Famer has not commented on the matter since late October on the advice of counsel.
Coming into the season, Pitino said shot blocking would be his team's strength. The Cardinals showed it early on Friday, swatting five shots in the first 12 minutes - as many as the team averaged a game last season. Louisville finished with nine blocks, five from Chinanu Onuaku.
''You could tell when you came in the locker room, we were locked in and ready to go,'' Mitchell said. ''We showed we can be a great defensive team.''
The game was firmly settled early in the second quarter as an 11-0 run put the Cardinals up by 32. Samford missed nine straight shots and was scoreless for nearly seven minutes during the stretch.
The Cardinals built their first comfortable lead with a 10-0 run midway through the first half to go up 23-11. Samford cut the lead to 23-17 before a nearly seven-minute rut without a field goal. Louisville used a 15-2 run to take a 41-25 edge with 2:12 left in the half and led 48-27 at halftime.
The outcome made for an unpleasant homecoming for Samford coach Scott Padgett. The Louisville native played under Pitino at Kentucky prior to his NBA career.
''I could watch the first 10 to 12 minutes of this game, but I don't know if I'll be able to watch it without getting sick after that,'' Padgett said.
Samford: The Bulldogs were picked to finish seventh in the Southern Conference this season. . Darius Jones-Gibson, a preseason All-Conference selection, missed all six shots from the field and finished with two points.
Louisville: Louisville is one of just four Division I schools to win 20 or more games in each of the last 13 seasons, joining Kansas, Duke and Gonzaga.
Only two Cardinals - Mangok Mathiang and David Levitch - have been with the program for more than a year. Just 17 percent of the scoring returned from last year's Elite 8 team, the lowest amount for the school in 43 years. Two graduate transfers, Lee and Trey Lewis, were brought in for this season in hopes of bringing scoring and experience.
SAMFORD'S BLUEGRASS TIES
Joining Padgett, Friday's game allowed a number of Samford players and staff reconnect with the state of Kentucky. Backcourt starters Cunningham (Georgetown) and Jones-Gibson (Lexington) and freshman forward Matt Rose (Lexington) are Kentucky natives. Samford athletics director Martin Newton worked at the University of Kentucky for two seasons. Newton's father, C.M., was the UK athletics director who hired Rick Pitino to coach in the Wildcats in 1989.
Louisville: Host Hartford on Tuesday.
Samford: Host Auburn-Montgomery on Monday.