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Louisville uses big first half to turn back West Virginia

Jan 31, 2009 - 10:03 PM LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Ticker) -- Terrence Jennings and Louisville look like they're ready to knock off another No. 1 team.

Jennings keyed a huge first-half spurt as the seventh-ranked Cardinals held on for a 69-63 victory over West Virginia on Saturday.

With a meeting looming Monday against Connecticut, which is positioned to vault atop the rankings, Louisville (17-3, 8-0 Big East) did not look past a dangerous West Virginia squad as it won its ninth straight game and remained unbeaten in arguably the nation's toughest conference.

"We're at the halfway point and we've been through World War I, two, three, four and five," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.

The Cardinals were lethargic for about the first five minutes before Pitino's squad kicked things into gear.

A talented 6-9 freshman, Jennings was the spark for Pitino's frenetic style as he scored all 10 of his first-half points in a 20-3 burst, which turned a five-point deficit into a 25-13 lead. Jennings did a majority of his damage around the basket, throwing down a pair of dunks and converting two layups as Freedom Hall erupted into a frenzy.

Jennings made all five of his shots from the field.

Louisville gave the fans plenty to cheer about the last time it faced a No. 1 team, handing Pittsburgh its first loss of the season on January 17.

While Jennings owned the paint, Greg Smith was lighting things up from the outside. The junior made four shots from the arc in the first half, when he scored 18 of his 20 points.

Smith's final 3-pointer of the half gave the Cardinals their biggest lead before intermission at 45-22.

However, the Cardinals still had to sweat as the Mountaineers (15-6, 4-4) battled back behind Da'Shean Butler, who scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half.

Also using coach Bob Huggins' tough man-to-man defense, the Mountaineers held the Cardinals without a field goal for more than six minutes at one point in the second half.

Kevin Jones split a pair of free throws with 2:16 remaining to cap an 11-2 surge to bring the Mountaineers as close as 63-59. But freshman beast Samardo Samuels made two free throws and Terrence Williams threw down a dunk, allowing the Cardinals to rebuild the lead to eight with under a minute left.

Louisville was able to hang on despite committing 24 turnovers.

Alex Ruoff added 16 points before fouling out and Devin Ebanks contributed 14 for West Virginia, which shot just 35 percent (20-of-57).

"We talked and talked and talked about it being a 40-minute game, not a 30-minute game," Huggins said. "Our margin for error is very small. We didn't deal with their pressure very well in the first half."