Louisville Blasts No. 16 Butler in KFC Yum! Center Opening
The Cardinals blasted No. 16 Butler 84-70 Tuesday night.
The Cardinals' debut was as impressive as their brand new home – the $238 million arena with amenities that include 71 luxury suites, 62 four- or six-seat premium boxes and even five dressing rooms for the radio/television broadcasters complete with showers and leather couches.
On the court, the Cardinals were just as sharp, racing to a 41-23 halftime lead and coasting past the Bulldogs.
Sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles' 17 points and 11 rebounds paced a balanced scoring attack for the Cardinals, who had four new starters on the floor Tuesday. Jared Swopshire, Louisville's lone returning starter from last year's 20-13 NCAA Tournament team, is out at least a month with a groin injury and watched from the bench.
What Swopshire and the capacity crowd of 22,723 witnessed was a typical Rick Pitino coached Louisville team: not shy to fire away from 3-point range on offense and a full-court pressure on defense.
Appropriately, the first basket attempted and made in KFC Yum! Center history was a 3-pointer by Louisville's Mike Marra with 19:26 remaining in the first half.
Louisville's 18-point lead halftime lead grew to 24 points in the second half. The Bulldogs (1-1) rallied in the second half, but never came closer than 11 points.
Buckles was one of five Cardinals in double figures. Terrence Jennings added 13 points and eight rebounds, Preston Knowles 12 points, Elisha Justice 12 points and six rebounds and Mike Marra 11 points and five rebounds. Peyton Siva also had nine points.
Butler junior guard Shelvin Mack, from Lexington, Ky., returned to play in his home state for the first time in his Butler career. Mack didn't disappoint, leading the Bulldogs with 25 points along with six rebounds.
Mack was 8-for-17 from the field, while the rest of the Bulldogs were a combined 13 of 43 (30 percent).
Senior forward Matt Howard added 23 points and nine rebounds for Butler (1-1).
Mack, Howard and Ronald Nored are the three returning starters from last year's Butler team that went 33-5 and lost in the national final to Duke.
Louisville, which was picked to finish eighth in the 16-team Big East, won its seventh consecutive season opener and 16th in the past 18 seasons.
Tuesday night's game was the first for the Cardinals in the KFC Yum! Center ending their 54-year run at historic Freedom Hall. In last year's finale at Freedom Hall on March 6, the Cardinals shocked No. 1 ranked Syracuse 78-68. Louisville went 682-141 at what former coach Denny Crum referred to as "the old barn."
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