And then Louisville decided to turn up its defensive intensity, and that moment passed pretty quickly.
With 5:13 left, Oregon scored to cut Louisville's lead to 70-64. And by the time the Ducks scored again, the game was over.
A miss, an offensive foul, a turnover, three more misses, another offensive foul ... you get the point. Oregon's offense was completely locked down by Louisville's defense with the game on the line. The Cardinals moved on to the regional final with a 77-69 win.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino extended one of the odder and more impressive records in college basketball on Friday, improving his record to 11-0 in Sweet 16 games over his coaching career.
This wasn't the complete domination Louisville had shown since it started a legendary run against Syracuse in the Big East title game, but the game never really seemed in doubt either.
The Cardinals got a matchup that fit into their strengths. Oregon turns the ball over 21.5 percent of its possessions before Friday, ranking 264th in the nation according to KenPom.com. Pitting a young backcourt like the the Ducks have against Louisville's dominant pressure defense is a tough assignment.
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It didn't take long to see that Oregon would have a major challenge on offense when Louisville really wanted to get a stop. About two minutes into the first half, Oregon's guards were harassed around the perimeter. They couldn't find any sliver of light to the basket. The Ducks just pounded the ball into the floor until there was a shot clock violation. The shot clock buzzer sounded 2:24 into the game, it was just a 6-1 Louisville lead at that point, but the tone was set. The Ducks aren't a terrible team, and underseeded as a 12, but Louisville was much bigger and more athletic and seemed like it could turn it on and stop an Oregon run whenever it wanted.
Give Oregon credit for never letting the game get out of hand. After a bad start, Oregon got within eight points a couple times in the first half as Peyton Siva was on the bench with two fouls and zero points, but Louisville still led 45-31 at halftime with Siva being shut out.
Rick Pitino complained during his halftime interview with CBS about Louisville's lack of defense in the first half (it still looked pretty good, as Oregon shot just 40 percent from the field), but the most efficient defense KenPom.com has ever tracked was ready to pounce when Louisville really needed it.
Oregon spent much of a second half down by double digits, but then the lead was suddenly just six points at the five-minute mark. Louisville's Kevin Ware hit a bank shot once the lead was down to 70-64, then Louisville dealt Oregon a few empty possessions and Chane Behanan threw down a dunk with a little more than three minutes left to get the lead back to 10. Game over.
Oregon's next points came with 1:26 left after the Cardinals had built a 12-point lead. After the Ducks got themselves back in the game, Louisville held the Pac-12 champions without a point for almost four minutes.
Russ Smith scored 31 points, tying a career high, making up for Siva's quiet night. Siva scored just four points, with four turnovers to three assists. Louisville probably will get more than one field goal out of Siva in the regional final on Friday. And you can bet the Cardinals will be great again on the defensive end.
(Although, there seems to be a reason for Siva's off night. Eric Crawford of WDRB in Louisville tweeted that Siva has the early stages of strep throat, and Smith and Ware are also under the weather.)
Duke or Michigan State could give Louisville a game on Sunday. Obviously either one will be the toughest team Louisville has faced yet in the tournament. And Oregon did keep the Sweet 16 game relatively close until the end. But the Cardinals still look like the clear favorite remaining in the NCAA tournament.
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