LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Ticker) -- Nate Daniels and Larry O'Bannon made sure Kevin Willard's transition was as easy as possible.
Daniels and O'Bannon had 17 points apiece and Alhaji Mohammed chipped in 13 as No. 4 Louisville used a decisive run late in the first half to post a 64-48 triumph over Conference USA rival Houston.
Willard served as head coach in the absence of Rick Pitino, who announced Monday he is taking a leave of absence to treat a medical condition that has been causing him pain for several months. Pitino reportedly is considering returning on Saturday, when the Cardinals face Marquette.
"It wasn't pretty, but it was a win," Willard said. "I am happy with the guys. There were a lot of distractions the last couple days, but they came out focused. I'm real happy."
Louisville was without leading scorer Francisco Garcia (ankle injury) and top 3-point shooter Taquan Dean (groin injury) but got key a contribution from Mohammed, a senior who set a career high for points.
Willard revealed that Pitino called the team prior to the start of the game.
"He talked to the guys by speaker phone just before the game," Willard said. "He said he had a lot of confidence in them and to go get them. He also said 'don't lose.'"
Louisville (16-1, 6-0 C-USA) continued to roll, winning its 16th straight game. In this one, the Cardinals used a 23-5 burst in a 12-minute span of the first half to put away the Cougars.
Houston (7-10, 2-4) has dropped three straight overall and lost eight in a row against Louisville.
Andre Owens led the Cougars with 15 points but had eight of Houston's 22 turnovers.
"Andre Owens is a heck of a player and you can see why he is an all-conference player," Willard said.
The game was deadlocked, 11-11, when a 3-pointer by Daniels sparked the key spurt. Daniels had nine points and O'Bannon eight in the run, which Jenkins capped with two free throws that gave the Cardinals a 34-16 advantage with 2:15 left in the half.
Houston shot just 33 percent (8-of-24) in the first half and got to the free-throw line just four times.
"For us, we have had trouble scoring all year long and that is a credit to them tonight," Houston Coach Ray McCallum said. "Their half-court defense makes it very difficult to score."