LOUISVILLE, Ky.- In one of the biggest games of the early season, WKU was down before the game even started.
Yesterday, junior forward Sergio Kerusch broke his right foot in practice and will be out six to eight weeks. Though he still chatted up and encouraged his teammates as he sat with them, that was about all he could do.
In his absence, the Toppers were no match for a hungry Louisville team that's had its struggles. Louisville pulled away late in the first half and rolled to a 102-75 rout.
"There were no surprises in the game, in terms of what we were ready to expect," coach Ken McDonald said. "We didn't go out and execute our press offense and stay aggressive. Just too many turnovers."
But Kerusch wasn't the only reason for the loss. WKU had trouble all game against the pressing Cardinals, who forced 25 turnovers. Louisville turned those into 36 points.
"There were no surprises in the game, in terms of what we were ready to expect," McDonald said. "We didn't go out and execute our press offense and stay aggressive. Just too many turnovers. I think we gave up 36 points versus their pressure. That's an unreal number. That might be a record, 36 points , that's a lot of points."
With 5:48 left in the first half, the Toppers trailed just 28-24. The Cardinals then went on a 17-6 run to end the half. With a strong second half, Louisville never looked in doubt.
"It's very frustrating and embarrassing how we didn't come out and play hard," senior guard A.J. Slaughter said. "We could've easily gotten in this game and we just let it slip out of our hands."
Even the interior presence that came up so big for WKU last year was gone. The Cardinals grabbed 37 rebounds, 19 offensively, to just 28 for the Toppers.
Junior forward Steffphon Pettigrew had a team-high 23 points and nine rebounds for WKU, but even he wasn't the same as last year's game. Pettigrew had held center Samardo Samuels in check, but today, Samuels gashed through the Toppers' front court, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds.
Overall in the paint, Louisville held a more than decisive scoring edge of 52-20.
"We had more ball pressure on their guards," Pettigrew said. "I tried to fight in there and try to limit his touches the best I could. They just built that run that we couldn't…our heads just dropped after that."
When WKU could break the press, it didn't shoot that bad, shooting 45.1 percent from the floor. The Toppers also connected on 19-22 free throws.
WKU was whistled for 25 fouls and the Cardinals shot an astounding 39 free throws, connecting on 24 of them. Five of those fouls belonged to senior forward Jeremy Evans, who fouled out midway through the second half with just six points.
Kerusch is out. The Toppers knew that well in advance of the game and Slaughter said it's time to move on.
"We can't use that as an excuse," he said. "Injuries happen and we just have to pick it up as a team."
Murray State is the next chance for WKU to pick it up, as they come to Diddle Arena Tuesday.
"There's a lot of motivation because we were embarrassed at their place last year," McDonald said. "That's gonna be one of the stories, but we've got improvements we have to make as a team. We thought we were in the right direction. We had piece by piece, game by game gotten a little bit better, up an including the Vandy game, then we have a big letdown today."
When the Toppers play the Racers, they'll have already been embarrassed, from today's result.
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