LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Having played four games in a row that went down to the wire - with two going into overtime and another one decided by five points - Louisville's basketball team deserved a breather.
And the Cardinals (6-2), predictably, got one at the expense of a badly outclassed Central Arkansas team, trouncing the Bears (3-5) 86-41 Wednesday night in the KFC Yum! Center for their third straight win.
Besides the dominating victory, in which UofL took care of business from the opening tip, the Cards got an encouraging sign heading into Saturday's tough assignment at Indiana from an impressive breakout performance by V.J. King.
The junior forward had struggled to get untracked this season, shooting just 32.6 percent overall and 20 percent from 3-point range (3-15). But he looked like a different player against
Central Arkansas, collecting a season-high 17 points, along with six rebounds and four assists in 23 minutes.
He hit 8 of 10 shots, but virtually none from the perimeter because he was getting to the basket so easily.
"I was trying to make the right plays, take the best shot possible, play to my strength," King said. "Early on, I got some easy buckets going to the basket, and I thought, I don't have to settle for jump shots, so I just tried to get to the rim every time."
King hadn't scored that many points since he notched his career high of 24 at Virginia on Feb. 6 last year, and he had scored only nine points in his last three outings.
"He was aggressive," UofL coach Chris Mack said. "I think the key is that he's never pouted, never felt sorry for himself. I'm sure he wishes he would have played better in earlier games, but he hasn't walked into practice with that cloud over his head like he's Charlie Brown in Peanuts, and that's good to see. It shows the type of character he has and we need him to be aggressive like he was tonight and play downhill and continue to do other things at a high level. He's got a quick first step; sometimes he's very tentative with that first step. Getting him to rip it, get into the lane and from there making the right play is something we've been working on heavily with him."
King's most explosive move came late in the game when he soared above the rim to slam dunk an offensive rebound.
"I figured as long as I was up there, I might as well not come back down with it," he said.
Steven Enoch and Jordan Nwora also had a big night for Louisville. Enoch, a 6-11 junior who sat out last year after transferring from Connecticut, had career bests of 16 points and nine rebounds. Enoch hit his first five shots while scoring the Cards' first 10 points.
"We wanted to establish Steven and he did a great job of establishing himself, then adding to it by getting offensive rebounds," Mack said. "Make no mistake, we felt like that was an advantage for us and it was great to see Steven respond and be the guy I know he's capable of being."
Nwora scored 21 points, including UofL's first eight points in the second half, and hit all four of his 3-point attempts.
The Bears were no match for the Cards in any area. UofL outrebounded the losers 48-36 and held them to a season-low 25.0 percent shooting, including 5-of-24 from long range, and outscored them 40-16 in the paint.
"We had fun playing defense, that was the main difference," King said. "When I first got here, I never thought I'd be saying that."
Louisville shot 51.7 percent, 11 players scored and no one played more than 23 minutes. The Cards were in control from the outset, holding Central Arkansas without a field goal for 8 1/2 minutes in the first half while opening a 52-23 halftime gap.
"The message from coach was to have the mindset of don't give them any confidence," King said. "He told us that if we play the way we're capable of we should have no problems."
And that was exactly how it turned out, to Mack's delight.
"That was really good to see," he said. "I think as a coach you worry about when you don't have a national name in your building and you go into it and next thing you know there's five minutes left in the half and it's a 23-all game and you have a funny feeling.
"We talked about it a lot. Each and every night you've got to worry about yourselves, you got to make sure you're ready to play and I thought our maturity was great tonight. I thought the five starters really set the tone."
The loudest noise from the Louisville fans came during a first-half timeout when new football coach Scott Satterfield was introduced, prompting a 90-second standing ovation.
The former Appalachian State coach, who was hired Tuesday, thanked the fans for their warm welcome and told them he would like to see the same passion in Cardinal Stadium next fall.