Gophers are golden as Louisville struggles to snap out of haze

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Off to its best start in 32 years, Minnesota finally has a signature victory.

Al Nolen scored 18 points, 13 from the free-throw line, and the Golden Gophers upset No. 9 Louisville 70-64 on Saturday to improve to 10-0.

This was only the second game away from Minneapolis for the Gophers, who have feasted on a soft nonconference schedule. They're off to their best start since 11-0 in 1976-77.

"This game really means a lot to us, but it's just one game," Nolen said. "We've still got to move forward to the next game."

Nolen also had five rebounds, five assists and only one turnover in 36 high-octane minutes, and he made a fan out of Louisville coach Rick Pitino.

"I love him as a basketball player," Pitino said. "He goes left and right, makes his free throws. I love him. Tell him to transfer."

The game was a reunion for Pitino and his former Kentucky assistant, Tubby Smith, who had succeeded him at the helm in Lexington.

Smith and Pitino chatted on the court for several minutes as their teams warmed up. Pitino holds a 6-5 edge over Smith, though Smith has won four straight against his former boss.

"It's always bittersweet when you're playing against friends," Smith said. "I consider everybody in this business a friend, but Rick is a very close, personal friend."

The Cardinals (7-2) looked weary after crossing the country to play less than 48 hours after a tough 77-68 victory over Mississippi in Cincinnati on Thursday night.

Pitino called it "the trip from hell."

The Cardinals landed in the desert before dawn on Friday morning, and Pitino said there were no buses to meet the team at the airport.

"But that doesn't take away from Minnesota totally outplaying us," Pitino said. "The trip from hell didn't stop us."

Louisville had averaged 79.6 points per game, but its attack sputtered for most of the game. With six minutes to go, the Cardinals had as many turnovers (15) as baskets.

The Cardinals went 9:31 without a field goal in the second half and shot only 37 percent (and 23.5 percent from three-point range).

Pitino promised lineup changes "to try to get a little more offense into our game."

He benched starting guard Edgar Sosa in the second half. Sosa finished with four points, two turnovers and an assist in 14 minutes.

Terrence Williams scored 17 points and Earl Clark had 16 points and 11 rebounds for Louisville.

The Gophers led 38-33 at halftime, and Minnesota opened the second half on a 12-4 run.

Blake Hoffarber came off the bench to hit back-to-back 3-pointers as Minnesota opened a 56-44 lead with 8 minutes to play. Hoffarber added three free throws a minute later to score nine straight points, and he finished with 15.

The Cardinals pulled to within 61-57 with 3:54 to go, but came no closer. Louisville scored only one basket in the final 3:54, and Minnesota held off the Cardinals by making its final seven shots from the line.

"We knew they were going to go on a run," Nolen said. "It was just a matter of how we responded to it."

The game was the first half of the Stadium Shootout doubleheader, with Arizona State (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) and Brigham Young in the second game. It was the first basketball game in domed University of Phoenix Stadium and a dry run for organizers of the NCAA West Regional in March.

The stadium is the home of the Cardinals -- the Arizona Cardinals. But with acres of empty seats, it had an antiseptic feel. Among the handful of fans at courtside was Louisville native Muhammad Ali, who has a home in the Phoenix area and regularly attends local sports events.

The Cardinals planned to spend another day in the Phoenix area before returning to Louisville. The Cardinals have three more nonconference games -- including a Jan. 4 meeting with rival Kentucky -- before opening Big East play.

"I don't know where we're going to be at the end of the year," Pitino said. "I've known from Day 1 that we have talent, we have potential, but we're not executing."