LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville center Samardo Samuels lifted all 265 pounds off the ground and extended his right hand toward Freedom Hall's ceiling.
A year ago, the shot from Morgan State's Joe Davis might have made it over Samuels. That was 15 pounds ago.
Samuels swatted the shot to halfcourt, where teammate Rakeem Buckles collected it and slammed it home to help the Cardinals (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) hold off Morgan State 90-81 on Sunday.
"I've just been doing some drills, trying to get better," said Samuels, who finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.
So are the Cardinals (3-0), who showed a marked improvement against the Bears (3-1) after slogging their way through a lethargic win over East Tennessee State less than 24 hours earlier.
Louisville never trailed after the opening four minutes, though Morgan State was hardly a pushover. The defending MEAC champions pulled within 74-67 with 5:23 remaining before Louisville used a 10-2 burst -- highlighted by Samuels' block -- to put the game away.
"We are learning and getting better and it's baby steps with this team because we are extremely young and our older guys are not better defensive players and that is also a problem," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
Still, Louisville managed to slow down Morgan State star Reggie Holmes. The senior guard came in averaging 25.3 points but was held to nine on 4-of-12 shooting.
"We wanted to take away [Holmes], who is one of the better scorers that we will see this season," Pitino said. "Our guys did a good job, not only getting him in foul trouble but holding him to nine points."
After making just 6-of-30 3-pointers against East Tennessee State, the Cardinals decided to attack the basket against the Bears. Louisville put up just 12 3s against Morgan State, opting to get in the lane where the Cardinals either got an easy shot or were fouled.
Louisville made 33 of 41 from the line, while the Bears went just 18 of 24.
"When teams respect your shooting so much and they close out on you, you have to drive and dish," Pitino said. "Our guys realized the mistake they made the night before and corrected it."
Preston Knowles added 13 points, five rebounds and five assists for Louisville while Edgar Sosa had 12 points. The Cardinals showed plenty of balance, with 12 of the 13 players who saw the floor scoring at least one point.
Louisville needed every last one after Morgan State refused to go away. Freshman DeWayne Jackson led the Bears with 21 points and Kevin Thompson added 16 points and 13 rebounds.
With Louisville's defense keying on Holmes, Jackson found plenty of room to knock down 4-of-8 3-pointers while Thompson held his own in the lane against the bigger, deeper Cardinals.
The Bears drew within 65-60 on a 3-pointer from Jackson before Louisville pushed it back to a 10-point edge. Another 3-pointer by Jackson got Morgan State back to seven points before a little urging from Pitino and some fantastic perimeter defense from Knowles and freshman guard Peyton Siva helped Louisville pull away.
The Cardinals held Morgan State without a field goal over a key 2:30 stretch while managing to get to the line with regularity.
"Obviously if a team shoots 41 free throws, they're going to be tough to beat," said Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman. "Free throws kind of beat us up. When you're on the road, sometimes that happens."