LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Things went so well for Wayne Blackshear that when he went flying out of bounds to bat a loose ball back in without looking, it bounced off a Houston defender's hands and right to a Louisville teammate.
That kind of good fortune had recently eluded Blackshear, who found energy and redemption while coming off the bench.
Blackshear scored a career-high 23 points in his first game this season as a reserve, and No. 18 Louisville used a strong offensive start to blow out Houston 91-52 on Thursday night.
Recent foul troubles, including three disqualifications in five games, led Cardinals coach Rick Pitino to bring Blackshear off the bench to maximize his effectiveness. The junior forward responded by shooting 5 of 6 from 3-point range and 8 of 10 overall in 29 minutes.
He matched a career best for 3-pointers achieved last Jan. 22 against Villanova.
"Coming off the bench just gives me an opportunity to check out the game," said Blackshear, who scored more points than in his previous three games combined (18). "I think I looked at where I could pick my spots and it helped me out."
Louisville hit 15 of 28 from beyond the arc, its most since making 17 against Morgan State on Dec. 27, 2010.
Hot shooting was the story as the Cardinals (15-3, 4-1 American Athletic Conference) put this one away quickly and thoroughly in the first half by hitting 11 of 15 from 3-point range (73 percent) and shooting 70 percent (21 of 30) overall. They cooled off later but still finished 34 of 66 (52 percent).
Russ Smith added 18 points and Luke Hancock 10 to help hand Houston (10-7, 2-2) its second straight loss. It was the Cougars' most lopsided defeat since a 110-63 rout at No. 12 Washington on Dec. 24, 2004, according to STATS.
Blackshear also grabbed seven rebounds as part of his career night. The Cardinals missed their first eight 3s of the second half before Blackshear hit three straight from long range to put Louisville up 82-44 with 5 minutes left.
"Wayne was great knocking down shots. He was active," said Smith, who shot 4 of 5 on 3-pointers and handed out four of Louisville's 23 assists. "His intensity was just in another world. He locks in when he comes off the bench. If someone could look up his numbers when he comes off the bench, it's like, tremendous. ... When he does that, when he gives that efficiency like he did tonight, we are almost unstoppable."
The lopsided outcome was unusual for a Houston squad used to playing close AAC games, with a 61-60 loss to Cincinnati nine days ago being the most recent. Highlighting the Cougars' solid league start coming in was a 75-71 win over then-No. 17 Connecticut and a victory at South Florida.
Not bad considering Houston had missed four starters for 19 combined games coming in because of injuries. The Cougars welcomed back sophomore forward Danuel House (15.6 points per game) after a nine-game absence because of knee surgery and sophomore guard L.J. Rose (10.1), who had missed the past five with a foot injury.
House had two points and four rebounds in 19 minutes, while Rose shot 0 for 4 in 16 minutes. Houston's bench was outscored 41-22 by Louisville's reserves.
Then again, it was easy for Blackshear and others to get in the flow with Louisville hitting from almost everywhere in building a 57-28 halftime lead. Five consecutive 3-pointers quickly broke it open in a first half in which the Cardinals made their most 3s in any half since hitting 13 against Hartford on Nov. 17, 2007.
"Louisville played great," Cougars coach James Dickey said. "They really came out and punched us in the mouth early and hard."
Houston didn't help itself by going scoreless for the final 8 minutes of the half and the first 3:08 of the second before Thomas scored. That made it 61-32, but the Cougars were down by 39 with just under 3 minutes left.
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Maryland point guard Melo Trimble, considered a lock to leave the program before struggling in the second half last season, has withdrawn from the NBA draft and will return for his junior season.
Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku, who recently underwent a medical procedure to correct a heart rhythm issue detected during the combine, will keep his name in the NBA draft pool.
Andrew White III will return to the Nebraska men's basketball team next season after removing his name from the NBA draft.