Louisville’s ethos is built on the trapping, pressing defense that has made Rick Pitino one of the most successful coaches in NCAA history. Saint Louis had a hard time breaking that defense and the low field goal percentage — 39.6 percent — was a sign of that.
Eventually not even Saint Louis’ attempts to keep the game close with their own suffocating defense was enough.
The Billikens were forced to press as the game came to a close and Russ Smith and the Cardinals found it easier to break things down. That helped them finally gain the distance to advance to the Sweet Sixteen and continue their title defense in a 66-51 win at Amway Center.
Luke Hancock scored 19 points, including a couple of big 3-pointers in the second half as the Cardinals’ lead was cut to single digits and nearly one possession. This was a game where it was a slow burn as both offenses struggled to make much of anything. The Cardinals slowly built the lead into double digits midway through the second half and relied on their defense and the Billikens’ inability to make free throws to finish the game off.
Saint Louis started pressing late in the game to try to make up the deficit and recreate some of the magic that led to the team’s comeback Thursday. It did not quite work against Russ Smith. Smith weaved his way through the press and got all the way into the paint where he dropped the ball off to Wayne Blackshear who layed it in with two hands. It was the most emphatic play in an unemphatic offensive game. Well, except for a two-handed Montrezl Harrell slam with less than a minute to play.
Xs & Os
Louisville kept the pressure on all game as the team is always doing. The Cardinals did a good job attacking the Billikens’ versatile big man Rob Loe. Loe was in foul trouble in the first half, committing three fouls in the first half and failing to score. He ended up with 10 points, but failed to step out and make the Cardinals pay with his 3-pointer. Montrezl Harrell and Mangok Mathiang did a great job protecting the paint all game, helping Louisville to a 37-30 rebounding advantage.
“It just gives you confidence. Russ knows he needs to prepare and play just like Russ Smith does. He’s got to make a couple tweaks. Russ is one of our leaders. We have so much faith in him. We know the kind of player he is. We’re fortunate we beat a great team. But we know Russ Smith is a leader and we know his scoring ability and how he affects the game offensively and defensively. It feels great to get a win and Russ is going to be Russ.”
-Louisville forward Luke Hancock
“I thought we took a lot of good shots today. They weren’t falling. But guys we want to hit, we hit the right guys in the right spots. You have days like that. Obviously we would have wanted it another way, but they were good shots.”
-Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans
–The Billikens once again struggled from the foul line leaving numerous opportunities on the board. They hit on just eight of 15 free throw attemtps with senior Jordair Jett making just 2 of 8. Saint Louis’ shooting did not come to help them either as the team missed all 14 of its 3-point attempts.
–Smith struggled to shoot once again, scoring 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting. Smith did not have his best game Thursday night either , but still found a way to contribute with seven assists in the game for the Cardinals.
–Harrell had a double double for Louisville with 10 points and 10 rebounds.