Score: No. 4 Louisville 74 ,Villanova 55
Star: Louisville: Russ Smith 28 Pts, 2 Reb, 2 Assists.
Story: Louisville had a personal vendetta coming into tonight's game. The last time Louisville played Villanova, it was the regular season, and the Wildcats beat the Cardinals by nine, giving them their second loss in a row. It was the middle U of L's short season slump, and Villanova stormed the court, so nobody wanted Villanova to advance to the next round more than Louisville, hoping for a rematch. This time, the teams met in Madison Square Garden, which made it more than just any other postseason game for NYC native, Russ Smith.
Smith's high school coach, Jack Curran, had passed away earlier today at 83 years of age. Smith had formerly expressed that he had a close relationship to Curran, so atop the pressure that came with the Big East tournament was the sorrow of a passed mentor. Smith posted this earlier in the day:
But he certainly honored his former coach tonight. Ending up with 28 points, he was the strong, consistent offensive force that his team so desperately needed to advance and avenge the team that had nabbed the Cardinals earlier.
As it turned out in the end, revenge is a dish best served in hideously-striped uniforms. Or cold. Cold certainly would make more sense here, as Louisville's offense was anything but hot in the first four minutes this time around. The Cardinals produced zero points and had five turnovers -- Villanova also had given up five turnovers in that time as well, but had managed to get on the board early. The points finally got started by a Russ Smith dish-out to Wayne Blackshear for three.
The defense continued to look really exceptional throughout the last six minutes of the half. In one play the Cardinals consecutively doubled-teamed three different players as they relentlessly followed the ball -- the defense was completely suffocating the Villanova offense. By the time the first 20 minutes had elapsed, 18 Villanova turnovers had been forced.
Although Louisville was up by nine at the half, it had many offensive troubles. It seemed that all offensive aggression had escaped Gorgui Dieng, and that end of the court saw the most action when Stephen Van Treese was operating the center spot. The half held quite a few scoring dry spells, the last one broken just under the five minute mark with a jumper by Russ Smith. It was the first field goal in eight minutes for Louisville.
Dieng woke up at the half, beginning with a jump shot, then following it up with a turnaround jumper. This set the offensive tempo for the rest of the game. Villanova's Darrun Hillard answered those with a dunk that made the score within single digits yet again. A following layup and another putback by the Wildcats made it apparent that the second half already had more offensive action than all of the first.
After a big three by Smith, who, at this point, was full-blown Russdiculous, the Cardinals broke away 46-28 with around 12 minutes to go. The Wildcat offense's troubles had continued onto the second half as the U of L pressure continued to tighten. Somewhere around the eight minute mark, Villanova finally managed an 8-0 run, which was put on hold by a bucket by - you guessed it, Russ Smith. A minute later, Villanova called its second-to-last timeout, down 63-45.
The Cardinals continued to break away, and the game ended 74-55. Revenge was attained, but even more satisfying, Russ Smith had a fantastic game, shooting with the crazy confidence that Coach Curran had helped to instill in him.
The Cardinals will advance, playing again tomorrow night at nine against the winner of Notre Dame-Marquette.