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Clark leads Louisville to win in conference opener

Jan 8, 2009 - 4:54 AM TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Earl Clark made sure Louisville would finally win its Big East Conference opener.

The 6-9 junior had 22 points and nine rebounds as No. 21 Louisville posted a 71-57 victory over South Florida on Wednesday.

Edgar Sosa added 12 points for the Cardinals (10-3, 1-0 Big East), who held the Bulls to 37 percent shooting (19-of-52).

It was the first conference-opening win for Louisville since it joined the Big East in 2005. The Cardinals face No. 17 Villanova, 13th-ranked Notre Dame and No. 1 Pittsburgh in their next three games.

With the daunting schedule ahead, Louisville, which was expected to contend for a conference title at the beginning of the season, took care of business against South Florida. The Cardinals were ranked third nationally in the preseason coaches' poll.

Louisville started off slow but began to take control with a 14-2 run midway through the first half, grabbing a 28-15 lead with 6:29 to play. Clark had nine points during the burst.

However, the Cardinals missed their last seven shots and had the lead cut to 32-26 at the break.

Clark scored six points during a 12-5 run that gave Louisville a 44-32 lead with 15:16 remaining and the Cardinals kept the Bulls at bay through the early stages of the second half.

Louisville pulled away with a 12-2 run as Terrence Williams made a pair of layups and South Florida went over four minutes without a point as it fell behind, 61-43, with 5:44 to play. The Bulls failed to get closer than 11 the rest of the way.

The Cardinals, who experienced travel problems and did not get in until late Tuesday, outscored the Bulls, 33-18, in the paint. It was their eighth straight victory over South Florida.

"Right now the reason we've had good success (against South Florida) is we've had more talent," Louisville coach Rick Pitino told the Tampa Bay Tribune.

Freshman Augustus Gilchrist and Dominique Jones each scored 11 points to lead South Florida (5-9, 0-2), which has lost eight of its past 10. Jones came into the game averaging 17.1 per contest.

"We need Jones to be a little more effective for us," South Florida coach Stan Heath told the Tampa Tribune. "Tonight it wasn't his night."