Preston Knowles scores career-high 31 points in Louisville's win

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The "beat UK" chants started softly with just a smattering of kids in the student section during the final moments of Louisville's 104-74 win over Morgan State on Monday night. Pretty soon, a large chunk of the capacity crowd at the KFC Yum! Center had joined in.

Considering the way the Cardinals (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) dominated the Bears, the chants could have started shortly after the opening tip and it would have been OK.

Preston Knowles scored a career-high 31 points, Kyle Kuric added 25 and the Cardinals prepped for their annual showdown with rival Kentucky with another torrid shooting night. Louisville (11-1) shot 59 percent from the field and forced 26 turnovers to easily win its third straight.

The Cardinals, who scored 114 points in a win over Western Kentucky last week, stayed hot. Louisville made 17 of 23 3-pointers (74 percent) while topping the 100-point barrier for the third time this season.

Coach Rick Pitino told his players to enjoy it, because the road gets significantly bumpier on New Year's Eve when the Wildcats (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP) visit.

"The shooting the last two games has been spectacular [but] we aren't going to get the looks we've been getting against Kentucky and in the Big East," Pitino said.

Maybe not, but then again, it would be a considerable step down for the Cardinals to go from "hot" to merely "warm."

Knowles and Kuric led the way, combining to make 13 of 19 3-pointers. Kuric kicked things off by making three straight 3s in the opening minutes then stepping aside as Knowles matched him shot for shot.

"When you see a teammate make three in a row, it energizes me," Knowles said.

DeWayne Jackson led Morgan State (4-5) with 22 points but the Bears were never in it. The Cardinals needed just five minutes to build a double-digit lead and cruise to their fourth victory by at least 30 points.

"They shot the lights out," said Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman, who briefly walked off the floor in the second half before returning. "[Pitino] does a great job of getting them to play."

Terrence Jennings added 15 points while Chris Smith had 10 for Louisville, which continued to share the ball, finishing with 25 assists on 37 field goals, a trait Pitino said has been key to his team's surprisingly strong start.

"We love passing the ball," Knowles said. "When you have a collective bunch of guys, when they pass the ball that way, you're going to see games like this. As long as we stick together we'll be OK."

Louisville went out of its way to make sure the Bears could get out of wintry Baltimore in time to make the game, arranging for a charter flight after Morgan State's commercial flight was canceled.

Considering the way the defending MEAC champions played in the first half, maybe they should have stayed at home.

The Cardinals jumped on the Bears early, as Kuric's hot hand pushed Louisville to an early 17-7 lead. Morgan State, meanwhile, struggled holding onto the ball.

It wasn't just Louisville's defense. Even when there were no Cardinals in the general area the Bears would throw it away, step on the sideline or dribble into trouble.

"The press was good in the first half then we backed it off after we got the lead," said Kuric, who has been chastised by Pitino for inconsistent play but has scored in double figures in three of Louisville's last five games.

The Cardinals wasted little time taking advantage of Morgan State's sloppiness, getting another balanced effort. When Kuric slowed down, though he did add an impressive one-handed tip-dunk to his five 3-pointers in the half, Knowles heated up.

He drilled three 3-pointers in the half, the last of which came a good two steps behind the line. The shot gave Louisville a 58-28 lead at the break. Knowles raised his arms as the ball fell through the hoop then raced to the locker room while the crowd officially moved on to thinking about the Wildcats.

Kentucky won the matchup last year in a highly physical battle at Rupp Arena. The Cardinals have yet to face a team as athletic and know their solid play early in the season won't matter when the ball goes in the air on Friday.

"We're not going to back down from anything," Knowles said. "We know it's going to be a hard-nosed game."