LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Rick Pitino says Louisville's new downtown arena has the feel of an NCAA tournament site.
Maybe, but Pitino knows there's plenty of work to be done before the Cardinals look like an NCAA tournament team.
Rakeem Buckles scored 18 points and freshman center Gorgui Dieng added 14 points and 11 rebounds to help Louisville open the KFC Yum! Center with a sometimes sloppy 83-66 exhibition win over Northern Kentucky on Sunday.
Pitino was pleased with the effort but said his team isn't in good enough shape to play at the frenetic pace it will need to if it wants to contend in the Big East. The Cardinals turned it over 24 times, many of them careless giveaways from trying to do too much.
"It's very tough to play this way," Pitino said. "I've only done it once before and that's the biggest weakness early on is guys learning how to play fast, how to pass the basketball."
Louisville led by as much as 24 in the first half, but the Norse trimmed Louisville's lead to 59-50 with 6 minutes remaining before the Cardinals responded with an 11-2 run featuring consecutive 3-pointers by Knowles and Peyton Siva.
Malcolm Eleby led Northern Kentucky, an NCAA Division II school, with 21 points. The undersized Norse, however, were out rebounded 55-26. Louisville outscored Northern Kentucky in the paint 40-20.
Some of that production came from Dieng. The freshman from Senegal spent the first 10 days of practice watching on the sidelines while the Cardinals appealed an NCAA ruling that deemed the 6-foot-11 center ineligible because of a transcript issue.
The NCAA overturned the previous ruling on Tuesday, and five days later Dieng gave the Cardinals 17 energetic minutes off the bench. He hit 6 of 8 shots -- including a 3-pointer -- and had two blocks.
"There's greatness destined for him down the road," Pitino said.
Dieng doesn't see the need to wait that long. He graded himself with an "F" because he wasn't pleased with his defense, a number he expects to go up as he becomes more accustomed to playing at the collegiate level.
"Coach let me play, and I hope I get to play more," Buckles said.
Louisville hosts Kentucky Wesleyan in an exhibition game Nov. 11 and opens the regular season Nov. 16 against Butler.