College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik tried to simulate Louisville's size, speed and strength in practice. The fifth-ranked Cardinals, though, were even more impressive up close.
"They are really good," Wojcik said.
Louisville took control early and blew past the Cougars 80-38 at a sold-out TD Arena on Tuesday night. The Cardinals (7-1) turned up the pressure as high as they could, getting a season-high 18 steals and forcing Charleston into 27 turnovers — 11 more than it had averaged coming in.
Charleston already has a signature win, beating then-No. 24 Baylor 63-59 in Waco, Texas, and had hoped to pull another surprise against the highest-ranked team to ever play at the school's five-year-old arena.
Instead, the Cardinals took the crowd out of things early with their stellar play. Wojcik said Louisville's backcourt of Russ Smith and Peyton Siva never gave his club a chance to breathe.
"Peyton is an NBA point guard. Both are very good," Wojcik said. "Both of them have played so long together, they are like brothers and play off of each other."
Wayne Blackshear scored 18 points to lead four Louisville players in double figures. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino was gushing, though, over his team's defense.
"It's the best we've looked this year" on defense, Pitino said. "We worked on it all week."
It sure paid off at the sold-out TD Arena. The Cougars had hoped to rekindle the success of 2010 when they defeated ninth-ranked North Carolina here in overtime, 82-79. But Louisville never gave them a chance at the upset, pulling away with a 22-7 run midway through the opening period and eventually stretching the lead to 42 points.
Blackshear said the players watched film of some of Louisville's past, best defensive teams and brought that mentality into the game. Still, Pitino wasn't sure his players had absorbed the lessons and asked them before the game if they wanted to play zone defense or man-to-man against Charleston.
"I think we just all wanted to play man to show him we could get out there and play it well," Blackshear said.
Things turned Louisville's way for good in the opening half as Blackshear hit a 3-pointer to begin the decisive run. Russ Smith made seven of eight free throws and Peyton Siva had six points in the surge as the Cardinals led 36-16 at the half.
The Cougars scored the first five points after the break to cut the lead to 15 before Louisville got going again with five straight baskets.
Blackshear hit the second of three 3-pointers to increase the margin to 51-26 with 15:38 to go. Blackshear's last long-range basket some 11 minutes later made it 73-36.
"They are a great team if they get into a half-court set and that was our main key not to let them," Siva said. "Our goal was to pressure their guards and it worked tonight."
Smith finished with 13 points and Siva 12. The two combined for nine steals and held Charleston's backcourt of Andrew Lawrence and Anthony Stitt to 3-of-13 shooting, nine turnovers and 10 points, 14 fewer than their average coming in.
Adjehi Baru had 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Cougars.
Chane Behanan had 10 points, Louisville's fourth player in double figures.
Louisville had looked shaky its past two games without junior center Gorgui Dieng, who fractured his wrist in a win over Missouri on Nov. 23. Since then, the Cards lost to Duke (76-71) and hung on in a win over Illinois State (69-66) last Saturday.
This time, Louisville pushed the pace early and the Cougars couldn't stand up to its stifling defense. The Cardinals were up 12-3 less than seven minutes in, holding Charleston to 1-of-6 shooting and forcing five turnovers.
Blackshear's 3-pointer began the 22-7 run for Louisville over the final 8 minutes of the half. Smith made seven of eight foul shots in the run while Siva had six points.
Louisville had nine steals in the half as its pressing defense rarely let up.
Charleston finished the period with 16 turnovers, the amount it had averaged its first seven games.
These teams played last year in Louisville and when then-Cougars coach Bobby Cremins stepped down last year, he urged Pitino to honor the trip South.
Why wouldn't he? Pitino said if he were going back to college, he'd put Charleston in his top three. It must run in the family since Pitino's daughter, Jacqueline, is a junior majoring in education at Charleston. He also spent time with Cremins and another ex-Cougars coach who's a friend in John Kresse, the man who the floor here in named for.
"I got to spent a little time with John Kresse, a little time with Bobby Cremins, I got to see me daughter, and we played great," he said. "It couldn't have gone any better."