LOUISVILLE – Thursday’s exhibition basketball game between Louisville and Pikeville was a chance for the Cardinals to take one last look at the 2011-12 season.
A banner was raised before the game at the KFC Yum! Center commemorating U of L’s Final Four appearance last season.
And in one more bit of unfinished business, Elisha Justice was presented with his Final Four ring in a ceremony before the game started.
A former Mr. Basketball from Shelby Valley, Justice transferred from Louisville to Pikeville after last season. He sat out Thursday’s game with a bone bruise to his left knee.
With those formalities out of the way it was time for Louisville, ranked No. 2 in preseason polls, to look to the future.
That glimpse showed that, in terms of playing time, Justice probably made the right decision.
It was a deep Louisville team that dispensed of the Bears 93-57. Pikeville, which won the NAIA national championship two years ago, is ranked ninth in the country among NAIA Division I schools with a 2-0 record.
But UPike, which took a quick 6-2 lead on Louisville, was no match for the Cardinals.
After falling behind 6-2 U of L went on a 13-0 run, grabbing a 15-6 lead with 14:25 left in the first half.
The game was never in doubt the rest of the way.
U of L coach Rick Pitino used 13 players Thursday. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng were in their usual starting spots and Russ Smith, last season’s sparkplug as the No. 6 player, moved into the starting lineup.
Rounding out the starters were freshman Montrezl Harrell and junior transfer Luke Hancock.
It was Harrell who made the biggest impression on a night when no Cardinal looked bad.
Someone near court Thursday said Louisville should send a thank-you note to Seth Greenberg for getting fired.
Amen to that.
Harrell initially committed to Virginia Tech but was released from his letter of intent when the Hokies fired Greenberg at the end of last season.
On Thursday Harrell, a 6-8 forward, had 19 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. He went 9-for-11 from the floor. Most of those shots were within five feet of the basket, but that’s known as playing to your strength.
And to the opponent’s disadvantage. The tallest player to see action for Pikeville Thursday was 6-8 Trevor Setty, but he’s a slim 195 pounds and took almost half his shots from 3-point range.
That helped the Cardinals hold a 55-32 edge in rebounds. Dieng, a 6-11 center, had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Siva and Smith both finished with 17 points. No starter played longer than 27 minutes.
“This team is very deep,” Pitino said. “It’s not as talented as some other teams I’ve had, but we don’t lose too much when we sub. Look at Tim Henderson. He’s probably our 11th or 12th guy, and we don’t lose anything.”
Harrell could be looked at as a substitute. He was starting Thursday in place of sophomore Chane Behanan, a starter last season who has been suspended for the first two exhibitions.
“I’m not a big suspension guy,” Pitino said. “I’d rather run guys until their legs fall off, but they know if you do this you play, and if you don’t do this you’re suspended for games. It’s all spelled out.”
Behanan’s problems stem from off-the-court issues over the summer.
“This isn’t a suspension I made,” Pitino said. “He suspended himself.”
So could Harrell be a consistent double-double player for the Cardinals?
“That doesn’t matter,” Harrell said of the numbers. “I’m going to give my all no matter what.”
Harrell also had three blocked shots, Dieng had five and Zach Price two as the Cardinals held a 10-1 advantage in that statistic.
How do the Cardinals stack up with Pitino right now?
“As people I love these guys,” he said. “As a basketball team I don’t know because we haven’t played anyone yet.”
Next up for U of L is its second exhibition game Wednesday. The Cardinals will host Bellarmine, the NCAA Division II national champion two years ago and a national semifinalist last season.
Vance Hall, a graduate of Franklin County, is a member of the Knights, who are ranked fourth in the country in Division II. He transferred to the Louisville school after spending two years at Wright State.
Linda Younkin: (502) 227-4556 EXT 257. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @frankfortsports