Sunday, February 9, 2003

No. 5 Louisville 81, Houston 55

By Mark Babineck
The Associated Press

HOUSTON - Rick Pitino was pleased to see Louisville jump to a big early lead. He was even happier that his team held onto it in the second half.

Marvin Stone led a balanced attack with 17 points as the fifth-ranked Cardinals extended their winning streak to 17 games with an 81-55 victory over Houston on Saturday night.

Louisville (18-1, 8-0 Conference USA) started out by pushing around Houston (6-13, 4-4) inside, then by hitting outside shots. All the while, the Cougars failed to solve the Cardinals' defense, committing 22 turnovers and shooting only 26 percent from the field.

"We played a great halfcourt defense in the first half," Pitino said.

The win extended Louisville's best start since it opened 19-1 in the 1955-56 season. The Cardinals have the nation's longest active winning streak, and this is their longest streak since they won the final 17 games of the 1985-86 season and captured the national title.

The Cardinals went on a 19-3 run early in the first half, keyed by the play of their big men - particularly Francisco Garcia, who scored 10 points during the spurt. Garcia finished with 14.

Then Louisville switched gears, calling on Taquan Dean to start shooting from the outside. He went 4-for-5 from beyond the 3-point arc as Louisville pushed its lead to 45-21 at halftime.

Pitino put Louisville in cruise control over the final 20 minutes, substituting freely with several lineups that kept Houston at bay.

"We played a good first half and played good enough to win the second half by (two points)," Pitino said. "That's what you want when you get a big lead in the first half."

Dean hit another 3-pointer to finish with 15 points, while fellow guard Reece Gaines scored 16 to become the ninth Louisville player to reach 1,700 points. He needs another 16 to move into the seventh spot on the school's career scoring list.

Houston, which had won four of six coming in, dropped out of a three-way tie for the lead in the conference's National Division. Louisville is the only unbeaten team in Conference USA play.

"Louisville is the No. 5 team in the nation, and it didn't take long for them to prove it to us," Houston coach Ray McCallum said. "With their quickness, size, speed and depth, they may well be No. 1."

Cedrick Hensley came off the bench to lead Houston with 14 points. Louis Truscott added 13 and Jeremee McGuire had 11.

At halftime, Houston fans and former players honored Guy V. Lewis, who coached the Cougars for 30 seasons and led them to five Final Four appearances and two NCAA championship games. Lewis, 80, was given several ovations in a moving ceremony on the court that now bears his name.

Lewis, slowed by a mild stroke he suffered a year ago, received a standing ovation when he walked into the arena. He was treated to a biographical video in his honor before dozens of his former teammates and players surrounded him on the floor.

"I love all these guys. I really love them, and I love this crowd," Lewis said during his brief remarks, which were followed by a rousing ovation.

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