Turnovers doom St. John's as Louisville cruises

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville coach Rick Pitino's preseason pick to win the Big East isn't looking so hot.

His team, however, could hardly look better.

Preston Knowles scored 25 points, Kyle Kuric added 20 and the Cardinals (No. 15 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP) continued their torrid shooting in an easy 88-63 victory over St. John's on Wednesday night.

"Tonight was a complete shock," Pitino said, pointing to injuries to center Terrence Jennings and forward Mike Marra that left the Cardinals undermanned against the Red Storm.

It hardly mattered. Louisville (15-3, 3-1) shot 53 percent (33 of 62) from the field, made 13 3-pointers and swarmed the Red Storm into a season-high 25 turnovers, more than double their season average coming in.

"We played a great game in every phase," Pitino said. "I was very surprised. These guys don't care about injuries. Someone else stepped up."

Paris Horne led the Red Storm with 13 points and Malik Stith added 12 but St. John's (11-6, 4-3) couldn't back up its win over No. 16 Notre Dame on Sunday.

"Louisville beat us to the punch in all aspects of the game," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said. "They were aggressive on defense and were able to turn us over. They play with great confidence on offense ... they really had their way for the most part of 40 minutes."

Pitino raised some eyebrows when he picked the Red Storm to win the rugged Big East in the preseason. He pointed to St. John's 10 seniors and the energy brought in by Lavin as evidence the Red Storm could turn around their moribund program quickly.

"I wasn't blowing smoke," Pitino said of his prediction.

While the Red Storm are decidedly improved, the Cardinals may be the real surprise in arguably the nation's toughest conference.

Four days after Louisville put together a rally for the ages against Marquette -- coming back from 18 points down over the final 5:44 to win by a point -- the Cardinals made sure no such heroics were necessary against the Red Storm.

Louisville broke it open with a 19-2 run midway through the first half. Louisville's small lineup and full-court pressure flummoxed the Red Storm, who struggled dealing with the sea of hands in the passing lanes.

"We just tried to make them play for 94 feet," said Louisville guard Peyton Siva, who had 10 points, a career-high 10 assists and seven steals. "They blew us out by 20 something last year at [Madison Square] Garden. We wanted to make sure that didn't happen again."

Not a chance.

Louisville held St. John's without a basket for more than 7 minutes during the game-turning run. At times the Red Storm couldn't even get a shot off before throwing it away.

One St. John's pass sailed over Louisville coach Rick Pitino's head and into the third row of seats while another rolled innocently past two Red Storm players and out of bounds.

"I think our pressure worked," Kuric said. "We got out on the break a lot and got a lot of easy baskets. We were just getting after it."

While St. John's stumbled, the Cardinals soared.

If centers Gorgui Dieng or George Goode weren't stepping out and making jumpers from the corners, then Kuric was knocking down 3-pointers or Stephan Van Treese was getting free for a layup.

Louisville made 15 of its first 19 shots as the lead ballooned to 40-19. The Red Storm briefly collected themselves after Knowles went to the bench with two fouls, closing within 44-31 at halftime.

Knowles returned to start the second half and promptly drilled a 3-pointer as the Cardinals stayed hot. A 13-point lead quickly grew to 25 as Louisville poured it on.

"We were a step slow and a passive," Lavin said. "With the Big East having [so many] teams in the Top 25, it is that much more important to bring your 'A' game and your A-level effort on a consistent basis. Otherwise you get taken to the woodshed."

Siva, who watched the Marquette rally from the sidelines after Pitino grew frustrated with his erratic play, appeared not to be fazed by the benching. He was dazzling in the open court, finding streaking teammates for layups or alley-oops.

His most spectacular play came when he threw his 5-foot-11 frame into the lane in pursuit of an offensive rebound and tipped a pass to Goode, who threw down a one-handed dunk that put Louisville up 77-52.

Siva raised his arms as he raced back down court, the booing he received from the KFC Yum! Center crowd during the Marquette game long forgotten.

Pitino, who improved to 587-213 in his 800th game as a college coach, broke the grueling 18-game Big East schedule into six three-game segments, with the hope his team would go 2-1 in each. The Cardinals hit that mark in their first three games and are 2-0 in segment two, which continues on Saturday at Providence.

Not bad for a team that playing without a single returning starter from last season and no power forward at all after junior Jared Swopshire (groin) and Rakeem Buckles (broken finger) went down with injuries.

"I've never seen anything like this," Pitino said. "As bad as it is ... we have great resilience."