Louisville storms into Elite Eight

Gerry Ahern
Yahoo! Sports

INDIANAPOLIS – It's not often, if ever, you see a team win an NCAA tournament game by 39 points and feel the need to apologize.

That's exactly what Rick Pitino did Friday night after his top-seeded Louisville Cardinals terrorized, tarred and feathered 12th-seeded Arizona 103-64 in their Midwest Region semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Pitino wasn't sorry about execution or effort. A garbage time dunk by reserve Kyle Kuric in the waning seconds was what prompted his mea culpa.

"It was just the exuberance of guys who never play, trying to score in the NCAA tournament," Pitino said, asking forgiveness. "We wanted to hold the basketball.

"We have great respect for Arizona."

The Cardinals, without a doubt the nation's hottest team, had a funny way of showing it.

The Big East regular-season and tournament champions (31-5) played their most complete game in blitzing the Wildcats (21-14) back to the desert. It was the biggest Sweet 16 rout since 1967 and the most points a Louisville team has ever scored in an NCAA tournament game.

They did it inside, Samardo Samuels abusing Arizona's bigs and striking for 14 points, five rebounds and two spectacular blocked shots.

They did it outside, Jerry Smith and Terrence Williams torching a zone defense with four 3-pointers apiece. The Cards connected on 14-of-29 attempts from beyond the arc.

They did it with offense, making 57.6 percent of their shots. Earl Clark led the way with 19 points, going 7-for-12 from the field.

They did it with defense, pressing Arizona into 14 turnovers and limiting the Wildcats to 38.1 percent shooting.

Most impressively, they did it with passing, dealing out an incredible 29 assists on 38 makes. Edgar Sosa and Williams each had a half dozen.

"I was really impressed with everybody tonight," said Pitino, now 9-0 in Sweet 16 games. "I can't be happier with this basketball team. But we know what we're in for. So we'll just go to work tomorrow."

Louisville's ability to work over the Wildcats by moving the ball was something to behold. Whether it was Sosa driving and dishing or Williams spotting the open man off the wing, the shots couldn't have been set up better.

"It was just guys being unselfish," Smith said. "If somebody would have an open shot off the first pass, they would just go ahead and find the next guy who was going to have an even better shot. Then we made those open shots."

About the only question afterward was how in the world did this team lose early season games to Minnesota, Western Kentucky and UNLV? How in the name of all things holy, did lowly Notre Dame blow these guys out by 33 points in February?

Being humbled proved a powerful motivator.

"I told guys during a timeout to remember how we felt at Notre Dame and let's make [Arizona] feel that way," Williams said, without a hint of mercy. "We just wanted to take the lead from 20 to 30 and just keep going."

Away they went.

Since that stinker in South Bend it has been nothing but wins for Louisville, 13 consecutive to be exact. The scary thing is the Cardinals seem to just be hitting their stride.

Up next is second-seeded Michigan State in the Elite Eight, certainly their toughest test of the tournament.

If the Cardinals approach the game with the type of all-out effort they achieved in vanquishing Arizona, the Spartans can forget about playing in the Final Four in Detroit.

Ask Arizona coach Russ Pennell.

"[Louisville] had a little bit of everything going tonight," he said. "Their guards shot it pretty well. Their forwards were on the glass. Offensively, they were just really precise. When they play like that, they're going to be really difficult to beat."

Pitino won't apologize for that.

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