With some very real upsets through the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament, the University of Louisville entered their second game at Lexington’s Rupp Arena to take on Colorado State University hoping to avoid becoming the victim of one themselves. After about 5 minutes, it became obvious that wouldn’t happen and the Cards dominated 82-56.
With a number one seed in Gonzaga barely surviving their first test and with a number two seed Georgetown going down to defeat, the possibility was there before the tip off. On the line: Louisville’s 11 game winning streak and advancement to the Sweet 16.
Russ Smith opened the scoring with a three point goal to bring the crowd into it. He would end up with four triples that made the fans louder and louder. You could say the Louisville partisans were engaged.
Colorado State took the early lead on an 8-0 run. Louisville closed that gap quickly. Then some erratic play by the Cards kept CSU in the game in the first half. The defense was the same go-for-broke style press from Thursday’s game because the deep Cardinal bench could wear them down and that’s exactly what happened.
That’s not to say the Rams couldn’t play. They start 5 seniors, which no other tournament team does. Their athletic director used to be Tom Jurich, the architect of the University of Louisville’s continued success. Their coach is Larry Eustachy, who was Jurich’s number two choice if Rick Pitino said no to the Cardinal job offer.
Fouls in the lane came hard. Big men hit the deck with regularity, including Gorgui Dieng and Montrezl Harrell, who both drew early charging fouls. Chane Behanan also hit the deck pretty hard on a rebound, too. Those are the kinds of things the Big East Tournament got the Cards ready for.
And with all that, Louisville led by as many as 17 points through the first half, led by Russ Smith’s 18. The Cards went into the break up 45-31 on a surprising, spinning backboard-kissing Montrezl Harrell .02 second long bomb. Going into the locker room, coach Pitino said this was the best second round opponent he’s ever faced.
When the second half opened, the Rams started handling the press better, but the Cards kept coming. Even when the officials called Peyton Siva for a travel while he was still dribbling, he and his teammates played as if the game was 0-0, just as coach Pitino said they would do.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton
The Rams tried to stay in it with Colton Iverson playing more and more like a bully, showing frustration more than aggression. Dieng and Stephan Van Treese kept him out of his game, even on the boards. Colorado State came into the game as the best rebounding team in the country. The Cards even hung with them there.
On the other end, Smith kept driving to the rim. That approach drew more and more fouls from the Rams and he made them pay by sinking his free throws. Iverson’s way of doing things saw him throwing wreckless, but uncalled, elbows. And whenever he did, the crowd expressed their displeasure at the fact that the whistles didn’t blow.
Colorado State did what they could. You could tell by the fact that Pitino didn’t empty his bench like he did against North Carolina A&T, but in the end the Cards had too much. Smith finished with 27 points. Dieng put in 12. Harrell came off the bench for 11.
One of the telling stats was steals. The Cards had 11 while the Rams didn’t get a single one. Louisville also outrebounded them 25-22, a figure thought not possible because of how good Colorado State was all season on the glass.
The Cards will face the winner of the Oregon-St. Louis game in the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton