Louisville basketball hits new low in blowout loss at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh guard Jamarius Burton (11) lays the ball up in front of Louisville forward Emmanuel Okorafor (34) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. Pittsburgh won 91-57. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

It didn’t seem like a dirty play to Kenny Payne.

It happened early in the second half of his Louisville men’s basketball team’s game at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, when the Cardinals’ Mike James and Panthers center Federiko Federiko fought for a loose ball.

Federiko flung James to the floor, and the Louisville guard bounced up to express his objection.

It was the most fight the Cards showed all night in a 91-57 loss, a moment perhaps emblematic of the difference between Payne’s team and its opponent.

The Panthers don’t seem to mind a dust-up.

“That’s what they live for,” Payne said.

On the gridiron:How Jeff Brohm has helped Louisville football close in-state recruiting gap with Kentucky

Nobody came to blows — Frederiko and James were hit with technical fouls — but Pitt did all the figurative fighting at the Petersen Events Center.

In handing Louisville its single-season school-record 21st loss, the Panthers (18-7, 10-3 ACC) moved into a first-place tie atop the conference and — in that brief, heated moment and beyond — gave the Cards a lesson in what it means to compete with the league’s best.

“I watched their huddle as they huddled up after that play, and I saw what I want my guys to be,” Payne said. “I want my guys to be tough like that, to fight like that, to be one like that.”

On Tuesday, they were far from it.

Though the Cards (3-21, 1-12) have shown periodic progress — Payne said last after last Saturday’s narrow loss to Florida State that they’re “70% better” now than at the start of the season — they were against the Panthers believably cast as an ACC bottom feeder.

The Cardinals’ effort regressed. Their defense collapsed. The offense looked disjointed, the way it has in so many of the more miserable games of this mostly mirthless season.

The result was a 34-point pummeling, surpassing a 32-point rout by Texas Tech in November as Louisville’s most lopsided loss of the season.

The turnovers have been worse — U of L finished with 13 — but the Cards shot 27.6% from the floor, in part the product of stagnation and poor shot selection.

No Louisville player managed more than James’ 11 points.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, spread the court with shooters, moved the ball and found open looks. The Panthers hit 17 of 31 3-pointers — Louisville had 16 total field goals — and set a season high with 23 assists.

Pitt was exceptionally hot, but its shooting got a boost from the Cards’ lack of communication. Too many of its long-distance shots were unguarded. On one telling first-half sequence, Panthers guard Nike Sibande missed a windmill dunk in transition, but — with only Cards guard El Ellis back on defense — corralled his own miss, stepped outside the arc in the left corner and buried a 3-pointer.

Big win:Louisville women's basketball beats No. 11 UNC for its 2nd win over top-25 foe this season

Sibande’s 15 points led five Panthers in double figures.

Payne repeatedly has praised Pitt this season, has made no secret of his admiration for Jeff Capel’s team.

He was at it again after Pitt’s second blowout win this season against the Cards.

Payne called the Panthers “the most complete, the toughest team we’ve faced in this conference.”

“Can score a multitude of ways,” Payne said. “They share the ball. They talk on defense. When one guy is down, I hear four others talking to that one that's down.”

Louisville’s flashes of that are fleeting.

It showed some last week, but the Georgia Tech team it beat last Wednesday is 1-12 in the ACC. And though the Cards’ second-half rally Saturday against Florida State showed some promise — Louisville lost 81-78 to a team that had beaten it by 22 points in December — the Seminoles are sub-.500 in the league and overall.

Player to keep an eye on:How an iPad, 5-on-0 drills earned Emmanuel Okorafor playing time for Louisville basketball

Pitt was a whole different test in the quest to prove improvement.

On Tuesday, the Cards failed it.

“I blame myself,” Payne said after the game, but it came with a side of disappointment in his players. He tried “really hard,” he said, to explain to Louisville what it was up against in Pitt.

Somehow the message didn’t stick. And it showed, almost from the start.

“I can just tell you, we didn't come to a fight,” Payne said. “It was a fight. We didn't show up.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Louisville lost by 32 to Texas A&M. The Cardinals lost that game to Texas Tech.

Reach Louisville men’s basketball reporter Brett Dawson at mdawson@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter at @BDawsonWrites.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville vs Pitt ACC college basketball game: Cardinals blown out