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