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Updated: Saturday, March 8, 2003 10:18 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(15) Louisville 100, Charlotte 59
CHARLOTTE 49ERS
Charlotte 49ers
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LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
Louisville Cardinals
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LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Ticker) -- After a difficult month, Louisville ended the regular season on a high note.

Luke Whitehead scored 19 points, Kendall Dartez added a career-high 16 points and Reece Gaines had 13 points and nine assists as the 15th-ranked Cardinals rolled to a 100-59 Conference USA victory over Charlotte.

The win concluded a turbulent end to the regular season, which saw Louisville (21-6, 11-5 American) win 18 in a row and climb as high as No. 3 in the Top 25 poll. But the Cardinals lost five of their final eight games and finished second in the American Division behind Marquette.

According to coach Rick Pitino, he knew February was going to a rough month for his team.

"I'm not Creskin, but I told everyone that February was going to be a tough month, but you don't expect to lose (Ellis Myles) and have all the distractions we've had," he said. "Things have to fall in our laps to win."

The Cardinals played without injured forward Myles and forward Marvin Stone was held out due to the re-opening of an NCAA investigation.

But without its best inside threat, Louisville turned the game into a rout midway through the first half.

"Everything has changed and we haven't had a lot of time to work on it," Pitino said. "What's unsettling about the Marvin situation is that you don't know what's going to happen. I believe the NCAA is there for the student-athlete. I think he'll be back, in my estimation. As coaches, we've got to comply to the NCAA rules and be responsible for the program."

In his final regular season game, Gaines had eight of his 11 first-half points during a 24-9 burst over the final 10:53 of the first half that turned a tenuous 25-24 lead into a 49-33 cushion at halftime.

In the second half, Gaines' unselfishness was on display. He had five assists during the final 20 minutes and scored his final regular-season basket with 17:19 remaining that gave Louisville a 58-38 lead.

In their third 41-point win of the season, the Cardinals did everything right. They shot a season-high 59 percent (38-of-64), hit 13 3-pointers and concluded their best regular season since the 1996-97 campaign.

Louisville also controlled the paint, outrebounding Charlotte 37-30. It also forced 17 turnovers and limited the 49ers to 36 percent (20-of-55) from the floor.

Filling in for Stone, Whitehead had a career night on the glass, finishing with a career-high 15 rebounds. He also had six of Louisville's 22 assists and a pair of steals.

"He could have hung his head, but he didn't" Pitino said. "He dominated on the glass and showed great heart. He had six assists, two steals and eight deflections at halftime and he more than made up for the DePaul situation."

Whitehead allowed DePaul's Sam Hoskin to grab an offensive rebound just before regulation and fouled Hoskin, leading to a pair of tying free throws in Wednesday's 79-76 overtime loss.

Dartez, whose previous career-best had been 12 against Cincinnati, was also a force down low. He converted several Gaines' passes for easy baskets as the Cardinals ran their motion offense to perfection all night.

They hit 11 of their first 21 shots and five of their first nine from beyond the arc to build a 32-24 lead with eight minutes remaining in the first half.

Whitehead scored Louisville's next six points and Gaines' 3-pointer at the 3:20 mark put them up by double-digits for good, 42-31.

Gaines, who is the Cardinals' fourth-leading scorer behind Darrell Griffith, DeJuan Wheat and Pervis Ellison, shot 5-of-8 from the floor and finished his career with 1,868 points.

"We had trouble with their perimeter people," Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. "Reece is such a special player. Dartez is talented and we've been vulnerable in the post. To be honest, if Dartez was their best player, it would be different, but he's a complimentary player. Luke plays unbelievable against us. He's a guy when he's in the game, he cause us problems and always has."

Charlotte (13-15, 8-8) was led by Demon Brown, who scored 12 points. Brown, who came in leading the nation in 3-pointers, shot just 4-of-11 and missed his final five attempts from beyond the arc after making his first two.

Brown had nine points midway through the first half as Charlotte trailed by one. But he missed his final four shots of the opening half as the 49ers went scoreless for nearly four minutes as Louisville began to roll.

"That was an awesome performance by Louisville," Lutz said. "Marquette is probably the best team in the conference, but college basketball is all about matchups and we don't match up with Louisville very well."


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