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Top-seeded Louisville withstands late charge by Oregon

Published On: Mar 29 2013 09:29:32 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 30 2013 12:41:25 AM CDT
Louisville Oregon NCAA

REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

INDIANAPOLIS -

There weren't enough Ducks around the basket to slow down Louisville junior guard Russ Smith, who tied his career high with 31 points to carry the No. 1-seeded Cardinals to the East Region final.

Smith was great on Good Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium, shooting 9 of 16 from the field in a 77-69 victory, the Cardinals' 13th straight to improve coach Rick Pitino's record in Sweet 16 games to 11-0.

"We didn't have it tonight," Pitino said, giving all of the credit to the player he said is "pure hell" for teams to guard. "Without Russ Smith ... we wouldn't have won.

"I think Russ Smith is runaway player of the year. Runaway."

Oregon (28-9) had practiced against six defenders to prepare for Louisville's frenetic full-court pressure and passed that test. The Ducks committed a tournament-low 12 turnovers and allowed just six fastbreak points. But they couldn't keep pace with Smith.

The junior seemed to have an extra gear and didn't wear down despite playing much of the night without primary ballhandler and backcourt sidekick Peyton Siva.

"Smith got going to the basket and we just never got him slowed down," Altman said.

Smith, the Cardinals' leading scorer at 18.6 points per game, got going early. He said he was so focused during the national anthem that he locked in on several Oregon players and was "just daydreaming."

Smith carried the offensive burden the first half but Louisville (32-5) emerged from the halftime break sluggish. Pitino said Smith infected the majority of the team with his cold this week and, though Smith suggested his conditioning was affected, there were so signs of weakened stamina.

Checking in after four minutes on the bench, the foul-riddled Siva ignited a 10-2 run to give Louisville a 66-48 lead with 8:51 remaining. Siva drilled a 3-pointer and assisted on another from Luke Hancock out of the corner to bring a sea of Cardinals' red to its feet.

Oregon responded with a 7-0 run and narrowed the deficit to 70-64 on an acrobatic spinning jumper by freshman Damyean Dotson with just more than five minutes to play.

That's when Smith took over again. He shook two defenders to flip the ball to forward Chane Behanan for a two-handed dunk, then scored the final three points of the game for the Cardinals at the foul line, where he made 12-of-14 attempts.

With Siva -- the team's leader in minutes played at 31.3 per game -- sitting for all but five minutes of the first half with two fouls, Smith and Kevin Ware combined for 25 points to help the Cardinals to a 45-31 advantage. The turbo-speed guards sparked a 14-1 run with four consecutive layups that pushed Louisville's lead to 24-8. Smith got to the rim easily in the Cardinals' half-court offense, and it didn't take long for the sophomore Ware and Luke Hancock to learn the pickings were easy at the rim.

"I don't feel like we put our best foot forward in the first half," Altman said. "We dug ourselves a pretty big hole and weren't able to come back."

The Cardinals made 11 of their first 20 shots and scored 28 points in the paint in the first half. Louisville didn't apply the frenzied full-court pressure that led them to 47 forced turnovers in their first two NCAA Tournament games. The fresh legs paid off on the other end of the court.

E.J. Singler had 15 points to lead five Oregon players in double figures.

Louisville's Gorgui Dieng had 10 points, nine rebounds, four blocks and two steals. Ware added 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

NOTES: Smith has 81 points in Louisville's three games in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. ... Friday's regional semifinal was the fourth all-time meeting between the programs and first since Oregon's 90-63 victory in 2001. ... Louisville has reached the regional final in each of the three NCAA Tournaments it entered as a No. 1 seed, losing to Michigan State in Indianapolis in 2009 and advancing to the Final Four in 1983. ... Only Kentucky (52), North Carolina (44), UCLA (43) and Kansas (42) have more NCAA Tournament appearances than Louisville (39). ... Louisville lost to Duke 76-71 on Nov. 24 in the Paradise Jam tournament played in the Bahamas. Louisville will play Duke on Saturday for a Final Four berth if the Blue Devils defeat Michigan State later on Friday. ... Louisville scored 42 points in the paint and averages almost 43 points per game this season.

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