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November 30, 2008

Tops come up big in 68-54 win over No. 3 Louisville

NASHVILLE, Tenn.- My, how a week has passed.

In one of the biggest wins in school history, WKU pulled off a 68-54 victory over Louisville, ranked No. 3 in the AP poll.

The win is the Toppers' first since a 64-52 win at Kentucky, ranked No. 4 at the time, on Nov. 15, 2001.

"Our whole team just wanted it way more than they did," junior guard A.J. Slaughter said. "We got on the floor, got after it, rebounded. I think we just wanted it way more."

Just eight days ago, WKU was routed at Murray State 89-61.

"Can we stop talking about Murray State?" coach Ken McDonald said. "That's a joke. The difference is, before, talk is cheap. We talked about everything we needed to do, how hard we needed to play, how we had to have focus, how we had to rebound and work as a team, defensively, how we had to help each other score and move the ball and we hadn't done it. I think we finally put our foot down as a team and I think we have some older guys that have been through this, that said, 'We're not gonna have a bad season.'"

The Cardinals' swagger was not that of a top team, said Slaughter.

"Like I told the guys before the game, I didn't think they were ready to play, so let's got out and throw a knock-out punch and they ain't gonna know what hit them," he said. "I just thought they were overlooking us."

The Toppers benefited from a horrendous shooting performance by the Cardinals. Louisville shot just 21.4 percent in the second half, 26.8 percent for the game.

While WKU didn't fare too much better, with a 41.1 percent mark form the floor, they got the baskets when they needed them. Slaughter came up the biggest for the Toppers with 25 points and nine rebounds.

"He's confident," McDonald said. "I don't think he was trying to press too much today. I wasn't concerned about it, but it crossed my mind in terms of him trying to do too much and having something to prove out there. I think he let the game, for the most part, come to him."

The Toppers came up with a number of loose balls and held a 48-36 rebounding advantage. Louisville freshman center Samardo Samuels, who's averaged 21 points per game this season, was held to 11 points.

Samuels was guarded for much of the game by sophomore forward Steffphon Pettigrew, who gave up four inches in height.

On the game's final play, Samuels grabbed a loose rebound and though unguarded, missed a wide open 12-foot jumper from the left of the rim.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino said his team's loss wrapped up a dismal week of practice.

"I thought (Louisville's) effort tonight was fine," Pitino said. "I thought their effort was fine. I thought they missed shots, but their effort in practice, again, you reap what you sew. I've been coaching too long, probably and anytime I see a team not give it in practice, you play exactly that way. You get what you deserve. Obviously, Western got what they deserved and we got what we deserved."

Pettigrew himself also came up big, with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

"I'm kinda the strongest on the team," Pettigrew said. "(McDonald) just told me to match up against him an try to limit his touches the best I can. If he catches it, just stay low and let him shoot over us. He's a powerful guy and that good of a player, just let him shoot over you."

As Slaughter and senior guard Orlando Mendez-Valdez came off the court for substitutions in the game's final seconds, both high-fived and hugged their head coach. For McDonald and the rest of the Toppers faithful, Murray State may well be a very distant memory.


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