|Post-Game Coverage ||Video Content |
|Championship Central ||Highlights |
|Box Score ||Interview with Rick Pitino |
|Notes ||Interview with Peyton Siva |
|Quotes ||Press Conference |
NEW YORK (AP) -- Russ Smith scored 28 points in a bittersweet homecoming, leading No. 4 Louisville into the Big East tournament semifinals with a 74-55 victory over Villanova on Thursday night only hours after the death of his esteemed high school coach.
Smith and the defending champion Cardinals (27-5) harassed Villanova into 25 turnovers and advanced to play Notre Dame or Marquette in the late game Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
Luke Hancock added 12 points off the bench for second-seeded Louisville, which has won eight straight - seven by at least 14 points. Peyton Siva, the tournament MVP last year, scored 10.
JayVaughn Pinkston had 21 points for the seventh-seeded Wildcats (20-13), confident they'll receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament Sunday thanks to a string of high-profile wins against top-notch opponents this season. Mouphtaou Yarou added 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Back home in New York, Smith received sad news early in the day about Jack Curran, the longtime coaching great at Archbishop Molloy High School, who died Thursday at 82. He was among the nation's winningest prep coaches in basketball and baseball.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino huddled his players after their morning shootaround and told them about Curran's death, then led the team in a prayer.
A first-team All-Big East selection, Smith remained his usual frenetic self on the court, an energetic whirlwind of speed and steals and jump shots to go along with his maddening turnovers and wild drives to the basket. He hit 10 of 11 free throws and shot 7 of 12 from the field, including 4 for 6 from 3-point range.
The 6-foot junior guard went diving past photographers in pursuit of a loose ball less than 2 minutes in and crashed hard into the basket support when he was fouled on a fast-break dunk attempt. Smith hurt his ankle and came up limping, but stayed in the game.
He had seven points and one of Louisville's eight steals in the first half as the feisty Cardinals forced Villanova into a whopping 18 turnovers before the break, including six in the first 3:31. The 25 total turnovers for the Wildcats, who were averaging 15.4 per game, matched a season high.
Pressing and trapping all over the court, they tipped balls, forced tie-ups, got 5-second calls and created all kinds of general havoc for the flustered Wildcats, who wound up using several timeouts in tight spots just to prevent potential giveaways.
Even when Pinkston appeared to be free for a dunk after Villanova broke the press, Siva sprinted back and slapped the ball out of bounds.
Louisville went into the locker room with a 30-21 lead and extended the margin to 20 as Smith scored 11 points in the first 9 1/2 minutes of the second half on a trio of 3s and a fast-break finger roll off his own steal at midcourt.
Louisville looked like one of the best teams in the country down the stretch, winning its last seven regular-season games. In fact, the Cardinals' only loss in their final 11 outings came in five overtimes at nemesis Notre Dame on Feb. 9.
Villanova beat St. John's 66-53 in its tournament opener Wednesday night to reach 20 wins for the eighth time in nine seasons.
Despite the loss Thursday, the Wildcats appear to have solid NCAA tournament credentials. They have three wins over top 5 teams this season, plus a victory over Marquette, which shared the Big East championship with Louisville and Georgetown.
One of those big wins was against then-No. 5 Louisville 73-64 on Jan. 22 to end a three-game slide and turn their season around.
Villanova made seven consecutive NCAA tournament appearances before missing out last season with only 13 wins.
The Cardinals, who came in forcing 18.5 turnovers per game, have won six straight and eight of nine at Madison Square Garden.