- Associated Press - Saturday, December 3, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Louisville coach Rick Pitino has played in the most difficult arenas in college basketball. Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina.

He’s faced some of the game’s best guards through the years. Bobby Hurley, John Wall, Sherman Douglass.

Never before had he seen a combination like DeWayne Russell and the rowdy Grand Canyon Havocs.

Overcoming a dominating performance by Russell and Grand Canyon’s boisterous student section, No. 14 Louisville escaped with a harder-than-expected, 79-70 win over the Antelopes Saturday night.

“It made us a much better team tonight,” Pitino said. “Whether we go to Duke or Kentucky, nothing will be as tough an environment as this.”

Pitino agreed to this rare road game against a small, private school out of respect for GCU coach Dan Majerle.

The Cardinals (7-1) won in a blowout the first game of the series a year ago at home, but faced a much more difficult challenge heading to the desert.

Grand Canyon’s student section is secretly one of the best in college basketball, racing to their seats before the game to create a rave-like atmosphere .

The Cardinals knew Russell, the Antelopes’ blur of a point guard, would be able to score, yet had no way of stopping him, no matter what they did.

And as Russell continued to pour in shots on his way to a career-high 42 points, the students known as the Havocs pushed the Antelopes within reach of the biggest win in school history.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Majerle said. “I’ve seen some great performances and that’s the most amazing thing I’ve seen.”

After struggling to find an offensive rhythm in the first half, Louisville started to find the mark with good passing. The Cardinals hit 17 of 31 shots in the second half and had a 22-point advantage in the paint to pull away.

Deng Adel scored 15 points, while V.J. King and Ray Spalding added 14 each for Louisville, which played without 7-foot center Anas Muhmoud (concussion).

“Our passing was great in the second half,” Pitino said. “That was the difference.”

Missing three starters, Grand Canyon (3-4) led Louisville at halftime and kept the Cardinals close until the midpoint of the second half.

Russell was the reason.

The wispy 5-foot-11 senior weaved his way through Louisville’s defense despite facing constant traps and double teams, scoring on pull-up jumpers and a pair of 3-pointers for 18 points by halftime. Russell closed it with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to put Grand Canyon up 37-36 at halftime.

Russell kept his one-man show rolling in the second half, bringing the crowd to its feet again and again, including a baseline teardrop shot that appeared to float as high as the shot clock.

“Coach Majerle told me where the traps were going to come from, how they were going to defend me and I just did the best I could to execute the plan,” said Russell, who hit 14 of 27 shots.

Louisville put together a short run midway through the second half to go up 10 and kept its cushion despite Russell’s performance.

BIG PICTURE

Louisville had another rough night shooting from the perimeter and had a hard time shaking a small school that isn’t in Division I yet. Not what the Cardinals had in mind on the trip to the desert, but there will be plenty for coach Rick Pitino to use in the film room and practice.

Grand Canyon schedules games like this - it also has Duke and Arizona on this season’s schedule - to gain exposure and experience against big-time programs. The Lopes fell short, but will benefit in the long run.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Scraping past a the Lopes could cost the Cardinals a few spots in the poll Monday.

UNEXPECTED LIFT

With the Cardinals struggling to get any kind of flow offensively in the first half, coach Rick Pitino turned to Matz Stockman.

The junior from Norway played a total of 15 minutes through the first seven games, scoring five points. He came alive when given the chance against GCU, scoring 10 points and grabbing three rebounds in the first half.

“I never I thought I’d see the day where I’d call timeouts and run plays for him,” Pitino said. “But that’s what happened and he executed it beautifully.”

UP NEXT

Louisville hosts Southern Illinois on Wednesday night.

Grand Canyon hosts San Diego State on Wednesday night.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide