Wayne 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 rout the Cougars 91-52.
It was Houston's largest defeat since a 110-63 loss at No. 12 Washington on Dec. 24, 2004, according to STATS.
"They really came out and punched us in the mouth early and hard," Houston coach James Dickey said.
TaShawn Thomas, who led Houston (10-7, 2-2 American Athletic Conference) with 16 points and 11 rebounds, had a message for his teammates after they were thumped for 40 minutes.
"When someone punches you in the mouth, respond," Thomas said. "I feel like every time we tried to respond, they just kept coming at us. Punching us again, punching us again. I feel like if our team would have at least responded a little bit, it wouldn't have been that bad of a loss."
Louisville (15-3, 4-1) led throughout and hit 13 of its first 16 shots, including 6 of 7 from behind the arc, to lead 34-14 with 9:44 remaining in the first half. The Cardinals were up 57-28 at halftime after hitting 11 of 15 3-pointers and shooting 70 percent (21 of 30).
Houston found itself down big at the break for the second straight game. The Cougars trailed by 16 against Cincinnati but rallied back in a 61-60 loss. Dickey was disappointed his team didn't "find the energy" it showed in the previous effort.
"At half, I just wanted us to come out and compete harder and play harder and guard," Dickey said. "They hit some 3s but some of them were uncontested. You've got to get out there and challenge better. We just wanted to compete harder. It was a bad performance by our team."
Louisville's 15 3-pointers tied for the most allowed by Houston in school history, matching the number from a March 2008 loss to East Carolina.
San Jose State hit 14 3-pointers in its 72-68 win over the Cougars on Dec. 7.
Dickey said Louisville got "really comfortable" behind the 3-point line, and his team must learn to contest shooters more quickly while putting a hand in their faces.
"It's just closing out with a great sense of urgency," he said.
Houston returns home for a quick turnaround. Dickey is stressing that his team must brush itself off and push past the blowout loss before hosting Rutgers.
"The big message is that we can't let this turn into another loss. We've got to be ready for Rutgers on Sunday at home. That's a big deal for us now," Dickey said.
As far as energy was concerned, Blackshear provided it off the bench for Louisville. The junior forward scored a career-high 23 points in his first game this season as a reserve, more than he had in his previous three games combined (18).
Recent foul troubles led Cardinals coach Rick Pitino to bring Blackshear off the bench to maximize his effectiveness, and the junior forward responded by shooting 5 of 6 from 3-point range and 8 of 10 overall.
"Obviously, Blackshear got the message, whatever it was," Dickey said. "I thought he really responded and played terrific for them."
Russ Smith added 18 points and Luke Hancock 10 for the Cardinals.
Houston shot 31 percent (16 of 52). Jherrod Stiggers added 14 points and six rebounds for the Cougars.
The lopsided outcome was unusual for a Houston squad used to playing close AAC games, with that one-point 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.
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 following a shot fake. That made it 61-32, but the Cougars were down by 39 with just under 3 minutes left.