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Spirited Film Session, Players-Only Meeting and Decompression Fuel Louisville's Rout of Mississippi State

The Cardinals put together their most complete performance of the young season on Thanksgiving night against the Bulldogs, and it was by no accident.

NASSAU, Bahamas - On Thursday night, the Louisville men's basketball program certainly put together a performance to be thankful for.

Taking on Mississippi State in the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship - a team which was previously unbeaten and had won at an average margin of 24.0 point - the Cardinals flipped the script on Thanksgiving night, dominating the Bulldogs from start to finish, and coming out on top with a 72-58.

Though Louisville won by *only* 14, they had led by as much as 28 before easing up in the final minutes of the second half. They held Mississippi State to 33.3 from the floor and just 1-15 on three-point attempts, while out-rebounding them 47-38 with 15 offensive boards.

They might have shot only 41.3 percent themselves for the game, but number was as high as 57.6 percent in the first 31 minutes of the game, then attempted just nine shots in the final nine minutes, making one, as they played to drain out the clock. By all accounts, it was easily their most complete performance of the season.

And it was by no accident.

In their four-game home-stand to open the season, Louisville looked far from complete. While they had, by definition, a winning record at 3-1, there were several concerns - namely their efforts on defense and rebounding the basketball.

After their win over Detroit Mercy last Saturday, a game where the Cardinals were tied with under two minutes to go against a team that is currently ranked outside of KenPom's top 200, acting head coach Mike Pegues started the next week with an extremely spirited morning film session the following Monday.

"I really got after those guys," Pegues said. "I didn't appreciate how we guarded and how we rebounded, and I told them going forward if that was gonna be the standard, then we're gonna have a tough time."

During their Monday and Tuesday practices ahead of the trip to the Bahamas, Pegues and the Louisville staff challenged his players every day - and he wasn't the only one. Not only did the players do some self-reflecting as well, but they also held a players-only meeting Monday night.

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"We kind of just hashed everything out for about an hour and a half," forward Samuell Williamson said. "We all just told each other what we need to do better, on and off the court from an energy standpoint, on the bench, a lot of different things."

Louisville arrived in the Bahamas Tuesday night, and even though it was a self-proclaimed "business trip" by the team, basketball was not the first order of business Wednesday morning. Instead, Pegues wanted to give the players an opportunity to decompress, allowing them to venture to the Baha Mar Resort's water park.

"I felt like it was a no-brainer that we had let these guys breathe a little bit," Pegues said. "It was good and refreshing for everybody to kind of get away. I even went down the slide myself, and it was exhilarating."

When their water park excursion was done, Louisville got back to work, and put together what Pegues called their "best practice of the year" that Wednesday afternoon. That in turn bled into Thursday night's game against Mississippi State.

Pegues said that, in a nutshell, Louisville's "commitment to upholding our baseline expectation" is what helped power them past the Bulldogs. He is hoping that after a performance like that, it will help the Cardinals become a more consistent team, and not suffer lapses in effort and energy like against Detroit Mercy.

"Hopefully that will continue, and that there'll be a snowball effect defensively and on the glass," he said. "If that's the case, I like our chances against anybody."

(Photo of Mike Pegues: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)

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