Louisville reaches Sweet 16 in impressive fashion

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Russ Smith scored 28 points and top-seeded Louisville advanced to the Sweet 16 with an 82-56 win over eighth-seeded Colorado State in the Midwest Regional of the NCAA tournament on Saturday.
Smith's scoring and a suffocating full-court press set the Cardinals (31-5) on fire in the first half, igniting the crowd at a de facto home game to nearly deafening levels.
Some thought the Rams would be a tough matchup for Louisville because of its veteran poise and ability to hold on to the ball. But once Rupp Arena got rocking -- the 24,000-seat arena was nearly full of loud red-clad fans who made the 75-mile drive from Louisville -- that went away. Colorado State wilted under the Cardinals' defense.
"We not only did a great job of ball containment, we were brilliant in all phases of the game," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "Steals were 11-0. We outrebounded the best rebounding team in the country. We held them to four assitss, and the most important thing is we contested every shot. We ran our offense great."
Louisville forced turnovers in all kinds of ways: steals, 10-second backcourt violations, traveling, out-of-bounds calls and three-second violations. Colorado State was even once called for traveling during a dead-ball inbounds play.
The Rams (26-9) finished with a season-high 19 turnovers, an uncharacteristic turn for a team whose five starters were all seniors.
"We just got ambushed," Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said. "We were as prepared as we could be. You can't simulate how they come at you."
Smith was spectacular in the first half, hitting deep 3-pointers and driving to the basket with improbable finishes by the 6-foot guard over Colorado State's front line. He scored 18 points in the first half.
In the second half, his game was a bit more tempered; seven of his eight points in the second half came from the free-throw line.
The moment that created the loudest roar was a fast-break pass from Smith, who is infamous for his preference to force tough shots instead of pass the ball. On a two-on-one fast break after a Gorgui Dieng steal, Smith drove about 7 feet from the hoop before whipping a one-handed bounce pass to Peyton Siva for an easy layup.
The play gave Louisville a 51-34 lead with 17:20 to play. Colorado State called a timeout, and Pitino met Smith at the bench with a wide smile and a bearhug.
"All I do is try to play hard and do whatever I can for our team to get a victory," Smith said. "I've learned since being at the University of Louisville that nothing matters but winning, and when you win, you become a winner."
Greg Smith led Colorado State with 14 points. Daniel Bejarano had 10 points and seven rebounds for the Rams.
Siva had 10 points and five assists for the Cardinals.
From the opening tip, the press disturbed Colorado State, but the team was hot enough once it got past midcourt that it led 16-14 with 12:02 left in the first half. The Rams' half-court offense was working for the first eight minutes as well as it did Thursday in an 84-72 win over ninth-seeded Missouri.
But as the turnovers piled up, even 55.6 percent shooting from the field (10 of 18) in the first half couldn't make up for the volume of shots the Rams weren't able to take. Louisville was 18 of 32 before halftime.
The Cardinals steadily built a lead but really took off with five minutes before halftime. Louisville scored eight straight points in a span of 36 seconds to open a 38-24 advantage. Colorado State would not get within single digits the rest of the game.
Louisville has now won 15 of its past 16 games. The one loss was 104-101 in five overtimes to Notre Dame on Feb. 9.
"We caught as well-coached team as I've ever played against, and I think that's saying something," Eustachy said. "I don't want to put the pressure on Rick and his guys, but they're special. I think they're a special group. They need a little luck like everyone does to win it all, but that's as impressive a team as I've been against."
NOTES: Louisville qualified for its 19th Sweet 16 appearance since 1975. The only schools with more appearances in that time are North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke and Kansas. The Tar Heels lead with 25 Sweet 16 trips during that span. ... Smith has scored 81 points in three career games at Rupp Arena, Kentucky's home arena. He had 23 points and a career-high eight steals in the Cardinals' NCAA opener Thursday against North Carolina A&T. ... Colorado State's previous high for turnovers in a game this season was 16. The Rams committed their 17th turnover Saturday with about 16 minutes to play in the second half. ... Colorado State finished its season with a school-record 26 wins. The previous record was 23, set in 1988-89.

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