Buzzing on Yahoo Sports:

Smith leads Louisville past Houston in AAC semis

The SportsXchange

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- When Louisville coach Rick Pitino removed All-American senior guard Russ Smith late in the game, Smith already scored his career high in points (42) and the No. 5 Cardinals were well on their way to a 94-65 victory over the Houston Cougars in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament Friday night at FedExForum.

What Pitino did not know in that moment, but learned a short time later, was that Louisville's all-time record for points was 45.

"It's more important he doesn't get hurt," Pitino said. "He has enough records ... he might never pass the ball again."

And at that, even Smith laughed.

It was, again, that kind of night for the Cardinals, seeded No. 2 in the conference tourney. They will meet No. 4 seed Connecticut, which beat top seed Cincinnati, in the finals Saturday night.

Smith, having worked as a sports intern, was asked to play both reporter and athlete. What would he ask a guy who just scored 42 points?

"I would ask myself what did I eat before the game, how did I feel on the court," Smith said, adding the answers: "I had a good breakfast, pre-game meal, and a nice nap and the warm-up line was great."

The warm-up line might have been the only place the Cougars could have slowed Smith down. He finished 14-for-22 from the floor, 5-for-7 from 3-point range, and 9-for-10 at the free-throw line.

"Our goal was to try and stop him before he got up a full head of steam," said guard Daniel House, who finished with 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. "He got a full head of steam. And once he got the three going, we started falling for the head fake."

Louisville (28-5) led by as many as 30 points in the second half and the Cougars never drew closer than 14 points.

Forwards Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock each scored 12 points for the Cardinals and forward Stephan Van Treese scored five points with 10 rebounds and three steals.

Hancock, also a senior, never tires of having an on-court view for the show.

"Sometimes he does some crazy things," Hancock said, "but that's just Russ. We love his game."

Houston (17-16) lost to Louisville for the third time this season. The No. 6 seed Cougars reached the semifinals by upsetting No. 3 seed SMU on Thursday.

Forward TaShawn Thomas led Houston with 13 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and three assists and a steal.

The Cardinals shot 50 percent (34-for-68) from the floor and the Cougars shot 37.3 percent (25-for-67). Louisville finished with 22 assists and just six turnovers while the Cougars made 14 assists with 16 turnovers.

Houston last tied the score in the first half at 16-16 on a layup by forward J.J. Richardson at the 12:05 mark. Louisville then went on a 20-2 run over the next six minutes to take a 36-18 lead.

Three times during the run, Hancock grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw and each time it led to points for Louisville. Twice, Smith hit 3-pointers, and the other time, Hancock was fouled going to the basket and then made two free throws.

"Believe it or not, we've worked harder on that than any other fundamental the last two weeks," Pitino said.

Cougars coach James Dickey was hopeful that one of the other post-season tournaments will have an invitation for his team, but in the meantime he said the rest of the country should watch out for The American in the NCAAs.

"We're gonna get five teams in and I think all five will do great," Dickey said.

Smith was a big part of the Cardinals winning the NCAA championship last season. He considered turning pro.

"As far as my game and teammates, the love was there. And I was always going to put the work in," he said. "I'm really happy with the decision I made."

NOTES: Louisville reached the semifinals of its conference tournament for the fifth time in six years with its 92-31 thumping of Rutgers in the AAC quarterfinals Thursday. The Cardinals have reached the championship game of its conference tournament in four of the last five years. ... Through 32 games, including Houston's upset of No. 25 SMU in the quarters of the league tournament, Cougars F TaShawn Thomas ranked third in the AAC in rebounding (8.1) and eighth in scoring (15.5). Cougars G L.J. Rose was first in assists (5.5). ... Playing in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn., Louisville G Chris Jones scored a game-high 18 points with four assists and six steals in the victory over Rutgers.
Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Football
View Comments (0)