LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Russ Smith had 14 points and 10 assists and No. 6 Louisville shot 69 percent from the field in the second half to pull away to a 79-63 victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday.
With starting point guard Chris Jones sidelined at least a game with a sprained right wrist, the Cardinals (9-1) got numerous backcourt contributions to beat their in-state rival for the fifth straight time. Freshman Terry Rozier grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds starting in Jones' place while reserve Tim Henderson added career highs of 12 points on four 3-pointers and four assists.
Their efforts helped Louisville pad a 31-28 halftime lead as the Cardinals made 13 of their first 21 attempts from the field after the break to build a 63-44 lead with 6:02 left. They shot 18 of 26 in the second half.
Louisville held the Hilltoppers (5-4) scoreless for nearly 6 minutes.
Mangok Mathiang added a career-high 13 points and Chane Behanan had 11 for Louisville, which shot 30 of 59 overall (51 percent) after hitting just 36 percent in the first half.
T.J. Price's 22 points led WKU, which shot just 36 percent and was outscored 36-14 inside. Brandon Harris, coming off a career-high 30-point game at Southern Illinois, finished with four points.
Louisville improved to 38-39 all-time against WKU in a series that both coaches want to continue even though its programs are headed to new leagues next season. The Cardinals will leave the American Athletic Conference to join the Atlantic Coast Conference while the Hilltoppers will move from the Sun Belt to Conference USA.
The game presented big challenges for Louisville without the 5-foot-10 Jones, its second leading scorer and point guard. Besides the temporary absence of the junior's offense, athleticism and floor leadership, the question was who would pick up the slack for the defending national champions.
Smith ended up showing his point guard skills along with a couple of long-range baskets, while Rozier emerged as the rebounder.
Senior Stephan Van Treese added five points and four rebounds and provided a presence that helped the Cardinals with Mathiang hampered by three fouls. Henderson meanwhile added another chapter to his hero's reputation after helping Louisville beat Wichita State with consecutive 3-pointer in last season's national semifinal.
The collective effort beat back a Western Kentucky team that came in a little deeper after transfers Trency Jackson and Chris Harrison-Docks became eligible on Friday. Coach Ray Harper promised to play both extensively and even started Jackson in a strong lineup featuring leading scorer Price (15.6) and George Fant (13.9).
Harrison-Docks finished with 10 points and Jackson had six.
Star players were mostly secondary in a tight first half featuring four ties and eight lead changes before Louisville clawed to a 31-28 lead. Neither team shot over 38 percent during the first 20 minutes of the half-court affair defined by deliberate shot selection against zone and man defense
Despite missing its first seven shots and eight of 12, WKU twice led by four points with the help of free throw shooting and reserve forward Aleksej Rostov's seven points. The Hilltoppers got good looks at the basket and shots slowly began to fall as the half unfolded.
Louisville started 4 of 12 as well from the field but stayed close thanks to 10 points from Mathiang and a team-high seven rebounds from Rozier. The Cardinals' shooting picked up as well thanks to Wayne Blackshear, who scored their final eight points of the half including consecutive 3-pointers.