LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Louisville seniors Damion Lee and Trey Lewis provide scoring and leadership but the improvement from sophomore center Chinanu Onuaku could take the 21st-ranked Cardinals to a different level.
Onuaku had 18 points and 10 rebounds as Louisville ground down No. 20 Pittsburgh for a 59-41 victory Thursday night.
The sophomore center had his fourth consecutive double-double to go with three blocks. Lee scored 18 points for the Cardinals (14-3, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).
"If Nanu wants to, he could be the most dominant player in the ACC," Lewis said. "And he wants to. I'm starting to see that more and more. He demands the ball. He wants the ball inside and he makes great decisions with the ball. I don't think anybody can handle him one-on-one."
Onuaku has struggled with foul trouble at times this season. He was limited to just 20 minutes in Louisville's 66-62 loss at Clemson on Sunday but had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
"Right now, if he plays 33 minutes we're going to be tough to beat," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
Pitt (14-2, 3-1) saw its 10-game winning streak snapped in by far its worst outing of the season. Michael Young led the Panthers with 18 points and eight rebounds.
"Some guys might sit up here and just blame ourselves, but they're a good team and they responded to a loss," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We need to do that."
The game resembled a Big East brawl of a bygone era.
Louisville led 20-17 at halftime, the lowest halftime total for both teams this season. Both teams were 1-of-11 (9 percent) from 3-point range. Louisville had a 34-20 advantage on points in the paint.
Pitt entered the game leading the nation in free throw percentage but shot just 12 of 20 (60 percent) from the line.
Onuaku carried the Cardinals in a myriad of ways — hitting jumpers from the baseline and top of the key to go with dunks off drop-steps, all while directing the defense.
Louisville used a 7-0 run to stretch the lead to double digits with 16:07 left, capped by Ray Spalding's reverse layup. The Cardinals led 33-23 when Pitt's Sheldon Jeter, a 93 percent free throw shooter, missed three straight from the line. That helped Louisville to stretch its lead to 40-25 with 9:33 remaining before Pitt began clawing back. Ryan Luther's steal and dunk with 4:54 remaining cut the lead to nine before Louisville went on an 11-0 run.
Both teams scored just 11 points in the first 10 minutes. The Cardinals clicked off a 9-0 run, with Onuaku scoring the first seven points, to take a 20-14 lead with 4:56 left in the half. The Cardinals held Pitt without a point for nearly 7 minutes before Damon Wilson's 3 with 2:19 left proved the final score before halftime.
Pitt: The Panthers had 11 first-half turnovers, more than their season average for a game, and finished with a season-high 19. ... The Panthers shot 29 percent. Their previous scoring low was 59 in a loss to Purdue.
Louisville: Louisville shot 41 percent. ... Onuaku, who shoots free throws underhanded, matched his career high with four makes from the line. ... This is the fifth time this season the Cardinals have limited an opponent to less than 30 percent shooting.
PITINO NEARLY LOSES IT
Pitino lost his tie in the first half and nearly lost his lunch in the second.
Pitino took his jacket off and rushed to the locker room during a timeout in the second half. Assistant coach Ralph Willard led the team during the break as Pitino nearly missed the resumption of play before returning.
"I can't eat game day," Pitino said. "A 9 o'clock game kills me. I made a mistake, I went and ate something. I get sick if I eat something."
Pitino said he has had about 30 similar incidents in his career that includes stints in the NBA with the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. His latest edible error came in the form of turkey, no bread.
ENHANCED SECURITY BEGINS
Thursday marked the first game in the KFC Yum! Center using new enhanced security measures. The arena's management company, AEG Facilities, added metal detectors and limited purses to no larger than 14 x 14 x 6 inches for all events.
Pitt hosts Boston College on Saturday.
Louisville hosts Florida State on Wednesday.