Sweet again: Defending champ Louisville wins ugly game over Saint Louis

Kyle Ringo
Louisville coach Rick Pitino, right, yells at guard Russ Smith (2) during the second half in a third-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament against Saint Louis, Saturday, March 22, 2014, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

When it was crushing opponents by lopsided margins immediately before the NCAA tournament, defending national champion Louisville let it be known it wouldn't go quietly as it tries to defend its title.

After two rugged games against experienced, tough, defensive-minded opponents in the tournament, the Cardinals have proven capable of grinding out ugly victories when forced out of their comfort zone. They slogged through a 66-51 victory over Saint Louis on Saturday afternoon in a game that is at the top of the leaderboard as far as ugly wins go at this point in the tournament.

No. 4 seed Louisville advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year and the sixth time in 10 years. Meanwhile, the Billikens were stopped short of the Sweet 16 once again. In nine trips to the NCAA tournament, Saint Louis has never advanced to play in the second week. This was probably its best opportunity of all with five senior starters, despite the fact it had to beat the defending champs.

Saint Louis became the only No. 5 seed to survive its first game of the tournament when it came back from 16 points down to beat North Carolina State in overtime on Thursday. But the Billikens simply never found any offensive rhythm against Louisville. They went 0-for-15 behind the 3-point line.

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The first half was the lowest-scoring half of the tournament so far with both teams sluggish offensively. It was Saint Louis' lowest scoring half since 2010.

Saint Louis committed 11 turnovers and made just 28.6 percent of its shots in the half, going 0-for-6 behind the 3-pont line. The Billikens scored only four points in the first 10 minutes of the game and went nearly 7 minutes at one point without scoring.

The Cardinals weren't much better. They committed 10 turnovers and made 40.9 percent of their shots in the half. Luke Hancock scored 11 points in the half and was outscoring Saint Louis as a team through much of the first 18 minutes.

The Billikens rallied in the opening minutes of the second half when the Cardinals went through dry spell. Hancok was the only Louisville player to score in the first 5 minutes of the half and his two points came at the foul line. Russ Smith finally made the first field goal of the half for the Cardinals with 14:05 remaining in the game.

A few minutes later, Louisville went on an 11-2 run to finally gain some separation and it cruised from there. Hancock led the Cardinals with 21 points. Smith added 11 with seven turnovers and seven assists.

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Senior forward Dwayne Evans gave the Cardinals trouble in the post both with his rebounding and scoring ability. He produced a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Up next in the Midwest region for Louisville will be either its bitter rival Kentucky or a rematch from last season's Final Four against Wichita State.

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Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!