By Tom Hurley | @TomHurleyKernel
Junior guard Russ Smith’s 27 points and team-wide pressure defense lifted No.1 overall seed Louisville into the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament at the expense of Colorado State.
Louisville out-rebounded a Colorado State team that led the nation in rebounding margin entering Saturday’s game. The Cardinals also won the steals battle 11-0.
“Ball containment was the key. That’s the way they rebound,” Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said. “They drive by you, they force you to help, and then they overpower you with rebounding. Our guys were magnificent tonight.”
The Cardinals had things going their way on both ends of the floor.
Early in the game, senior guard Peyton Siva stumbled to the floor on his way through the paint. Siva recovered his dribble and made the basket.
On the ensuing Colorado State possession Dieng soared high to block a shot and Blackshear dived at full stretch to recover the loose ball.
It was a sign of things to come.
Later in the half, a Dieng basket was followed by a swarm of red and white jerseys around the baseline as the Rams tried to get the ball in play.
Sophomore guard Kevin Ware deflecting the inbound pass and CSU’s second attempt to get the ball inbounds resulted in a turnover.
The sequence lifted what Rams senior center Colton Iverson called “a sea of red” in the stands, and the momentum swing sparked a 12-3 Louisville run.
Colorado State struggled to make it past the pressure defense and two steals from Ware led to more Louisville buckets.
Continued difficulty inbounding the ball allowed Smith to drill a three to take the Cardinals lead to 14.
Freshman forward Montrezi Harell hit a deep two at the buzzer to send the Cards into the locker room with a 45-31 advantage.
Louisville’s 14-point lead matched its 14-point advantage in points off turnovers at the half.
The Cardinal defense continued to press as the second period got underway, enabling Pitino’s side to force 24 turnovers on the game and outscore No. 8-seed Colorado State 42-14 in the paint.
Turnover followed turnover. Up-court rush followed up-court rush.
Such was the difficulty that Colorado State’s guards had bringing the ball up court, Rams head coach Larry Eustachy took to having 6-foot-10 senior center Colton Iverson take over ball handling duties.
Louisville quickly stretched their lead as they forced the Rams offense into committing turnovers.
“We just got ambushed,” Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy said. “This game’s close then of all of a sudden it’s 26.”
Smith continued to score at will, going 7-of-15 from the floor including 4-of-7 from distance.
A two-handed slam from Harrell with four minutes to play almost blew the roof off the building as the Louisville fans roared in approval.
The fans continued to stand and cheer as the Cards ran down the clock and sealed the 82-56 win.
“There was no special recipe to this game, they just out worked us,” Iverson said.
Smith has averaged 26.6 points in three career games at Rupp Arena, causing chants of “Russ Arena” from Cards fans in attendance.
“I just play hard no matter what venue I’m at,” Smith said. “For big games I like to really prepare myself and have a big game.”
Dieng scored 12 points and was one of five Cardinals to finish the game with two steals. Siva added 10 points and five assists.
Colorado State was led by 12 points from senior forward Greg Smith. Sophomore guard Daniel Bejarno had 19 points.
Rams senior guard Dorian Green opened the game with back-to-back three pointers. Those six points were the only he would score for the night.
Louisville now advances to the Sweet Sixteen where it meets No. 12-seed Oregon. The game will take place Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.