Louisville coach Rick Pitino dished out plenty of praise following a season-opening victory, though that may have been expected given the amount of contributors that returned from last season's Final Four team.
The second-ranked Cardinals have a good chance for another dominant performance when they host Samford on Thursday night.Louisville returned 11 players from a 30-win squad that fell to eventual national champion Kentucky in the national semifinals, including Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith.All three contributed in Sunday's 79-51 victory over Manhattan to begin a season filled with high expectations, and Pitino wasn't shy about discussing how pleased he was with each -- especially Siva and Smith.While Dieng scored nine points and played his customary solid defense in 20 minutes, Siva scored 10 points and dished out a career high-tying 10 assists to earn high marks from his coach."I think Peyton is the best guard in the country," Pitino said. "He (rarely was) a true point before this year. I think he is brilliant and a great player."It was Smith, though, who made the biggest contribution -- and earned the most praise from Pitino -- by scoring a game-high 23 points and finishing with five steals.Smith averaged 11.5 points and finished third in the Big East in steals playing mostly a reserve role in 2011-12."Somebody asked me the question: "Who is more valuable, Gorgui or Peyton?" and I have no idea. Who is the guy we can't win without? Russ Smith," Pitino said. "He gives you a dimension that most teams don't have. He is unguardable and then he turns around and is the leading steal leader for a season at our school. On the ball offensively and on the ball defensively, he is pretty darn good."Pitino did say Louisville's rebounding needs to improve, though, after it was outrebounded 37-33 on Sunday."We have to do a better job all around," he said. "We are a low-percentage defensive team and we hold people to low percentages."That seems destined to hold true against a Samford team that has shot 38.6 and 44.9 percent, respectively, in its first two contests.The Bulldogs (1-1), shooting 19.1 percent from 3-point range, lost their opener 75-64 at Austin Peay on Friday before Monday's 59-40 home victory over NAIA school Martin Methodist.Freshman Tim Williams finished with team highs of 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks."That's what we're looking for as a staff right now," first-year coach Bennie Seltzer said. "Just give us that effort and then all of the other things will fall into place."Samford has lost it's last 10 games versus ranked opponents since a victory over No. 15 St. John's on Nov. 19, 1999, and is in for a pair of tough tests this week. After facing Louisville, it travels to No. 17 Memphis on Saturday."Playing against the likes of Louisville and Memphis are what it's all about for our players," Seltzer said. "They are going to have a chance to play against two of the top teams in the country. I have tremendous respect for (Pitino) and his program."This marks the first meeting between the Cardinals and Bulldogs.