LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The emotion of raising a national championship banner combined with replacing two key players from the team that won the title had No. 3 Louisville in a close game for 33 minutes against the College of Charleston on Saturday.
Then came the boom.
The Cardinals outscored Charleston 22-3 over the final 6:41 to pull away to a 70-48 victory in the first game of their national championship defense.
"Our quality, that 'boom' quality that we had last year, came out again in the second half because we played like starving dogs," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski saw it when Louisville shook off the grief of losing teammate Kevin Ware to a broken leg and ripped off a 13-2 second-half run that pushed the Cardinals to the Final Four.
"I thought we had a chance there, and then, boom," Krzyzewski said after the Midwest Region final last season. "That's what they do to teams."
Louisville pulled off similar comebacks against Wichita State and Michigan to earn the school's third national title in April. It unveiled the championship banner for those efforts before Saturday's game but was shaky at the start following the ceremony that Pitino wrapped up.
"We are very much like the Green Bay Packers. We are owned by our fans," he said, choked up in the moment.
Preseason All-America Russ Smith led Louisville with 21 points and five assists. He said while the pregame pageantry was "special," it "threw everything out of rhythm."
"We just had to kind of kick the rust off," Smith said. "I'm kind of happy we got back into playing the way we know how to play."
That style — pressure basketball on defense and attacking the rim on offense — was on display as Louisville's spurt put the Cougars away late.
"It kind of just felt like last year when we kind of just boomed people," said Stephan Van Treese, a fifth-year senior. "We just kept it going. It was awesome; the crowd really got into it."
Van Treese had six points and seven rebounds, all in the second half, after picking up two fouls in the first 3:10. Freshman Mangok Mathiang added seven points and 10 rebounds in his college debut.
They were the players trying to replace Gorgui Dieng, now with the NBA's Timberwolves, at center.
"That was great play and what we need from the (No.) 5 spot," Pitino said. "We need hungry hustle and they gave it to us."
NO. 11 OHIO ST. 89, MORGAN ST. 50: Shannon Scott scored a career-high 16 and LaQuinton Ross, also starting for the first time as a junior, had 14 points and a career-best 11 rebounds to lead the host Buckeyes in their opener.
NO. 15 GONZAGA 100, BRYANT 76: Sam Dower had 21 points and 17 rebounds to lead the host Bulldogs in their opener.
NO. 16 WICHITA ST. 93, EMPORIA ST. 50: Cleanthony Early scored 21 and Ron Baker added 17 to lead the host Shockers past the Division II Hornets in their first game since their Final Four appearance.
SAINT LEO 71, P.R.-PONCE 30: Devin Crisosto had 12 points and Chim Kadima 11 for the Lions (2-0) in the Mayaguez Basketball Classic in Puerto Rico.
ARK.-MONTICELLO 73, ECKERD 60: Sophomores Jerrick Stevenson and E.J. Moody scored 12 each for the Tritons, who dropped their opener at the Down in the Delta Challenge in Cleveland, Miss.
BIRD HONORED: Indiana State officials unveiled a bronze statue of former Sycamores star Larry Bird. The 17-foot statue is in the middle of a jump shot, reminding fans of the greatest years in Sycamores basketball.
NO. 1 UCONN 89, HARTFORD 34: Moriah Jefferson scored a career-high 17, and the host Huskies began their defense of their eighth national title with a rout of their in-state rival.
NO. 3 STANFORD 83, BC 71: Amber Orrange had 19 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for the visiting Cardinal, which gave coach Tara VanDerveer her 895th career victory in its season opener.
NO. 6 NOTRE DAME 99, UNCW 50: Jewell Loyd and Michaela Mabrey scored 19 each to lead the host Irish in their season opener.
NO. 14 DAYTON 89, UC RIVERSIDE 54: Amber Deane had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the host Flyers in their season opener.
SAINT LEO 83, PB ATLANTIC 53: Chelsea Williams and Chelsea Connelly had 17 points each to lead the host Lions in their season opener.
CLAYTON ST. 64, TAMPA 48: Keke Jones had 15 points for the host Spartans (1-1).