Louisville Advances to Sweet 16 over Colorado State 82-56

#1 Rebounding Team in the Country. Check. Light Bench. Check. A red hot Russ Smith. Check. LeBron James tweet. Check.

Just about everything went right for the Cards on Saturday afternoon in Lexington’s Rupp Arena.  So much so that by the end calling the famed home of the Kentucky Wildcats, “Russ Arena” was a commonly accepted moniker.  Louisville dispatched the Rams early in the 1st half with a tremendous effort from the diminutive guard affectionately known as “Russdiculous”.  Maybe out of high school he was someone no one wanted to recruit.  Maybe he almost transferred after his freshman year.  But Russ Smith is having a historic season for the Cards and caught fire in the first half.  Russ Smith finished with 27 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a turnover. Smith was on fire so much during the 1st half that LeBron James actually tweeted about Russdiculous.

Colorado State struggled bringing the ball up the floor. The Cards used Smith, Siva, and Kevin Ware to apply pressure on Dorian Green and after a 10-second count in the backcourt and several other close calls CSU coach Larry Eustachy elected to bring Ram Center Colton Iverson into the back court to help the Rams bring the ball up the floor.  When Colorado State had to do that, they killed their rebounding advantage by asking Iverson who is 6-10, 261 to use much more energy than usual. Iverson said after the game that the Cards, “Outworked Us.”

Gorgui Dieng said in a very joyous Cardinal post-game locker room, “I thought they were all tired.” Colorado State’s bench options did not help against a team that is famous for bringing pressure and trying to mentally and physically tire their opponents.

Rupp Arena was a sea of Red during the 2-day event to open the NCAA Tournament.  Louisville should expect the same when the Cards travel to Indianapolis to face the Oregon Ducks in the Sweet 16 inside Lucas Oil Stadiumon Friday. Game times are not yet announced.

Transcript: Rick Pitino, Russ, & SVT Post-Game NC A&T

THE MODERATOR:  We’re going to start with an opening statement from Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, and we’ll direct the questions please to the student-athletes and then they can be excused and we’ll have some more time for with the coach.

Coach?

COACH PITINO:  We did a lot of great things tonight at the defensive end.  We set a deflection record for our basketball team.  We broke it with the Villanova in the Big East tournament with 58.  Tonight we had 32 from our backcourt, which I’ve never had since I’ve been coaching in 35 years, pro or college.  We had Russ with 16, Peyton with 16.  I’ve never seen that before and we finished the game with 67.

That being said, with special performance by these two guys, but Russ who listened very intently to the scouting report, was 10 for 16, didn’t take a bad shot, three assists, eight steals, but came up lame without a rebound (laughter).  So we’re very disappointed in that.  We’re going to do drills in the ballroom with Russ rebounding tonight, but both of these guys had a great game and Russ is a really special player.  He said he was like a blender tonight, just moved around and move around.

North Carolina is much better than their performance.  They just ran against another trapping team that had more length, more size, more quickness, and they played — if we played like a St. Louis or Colorado State or anybody like that, you wouldn’t have seen it.  We ran into the right opponent in the first game.  They had a fabulous season.

THE MODERATOR:  We have questions now for student-athletes Russ Smith and Stephen Van Treese.

Q.  Russ, a lot of times teams come into the tournament and they feel like they haven’t been — they always says they’re not respected, haven’t been given enough props.  You’re figured as the No. 1 seed in the whole thing.  Is that something you relish, something you wanted to see and were after when the bracket came out?

RUSS SMITH:  Not really, to be for real.  I was just moreso just looking at who we’re going to play and getting ready to suit up, and that’s the big thing.  I’m now, the second half of the season, the Coach has been on me about scouting reports, and that’s the only thing I was waiting for was the scouting report, what do I have to do to contribute to the team.  What’s the team goals?  What do we have to do to get to the next round?  That’s it.  We just take one game at a time.

Q.  Russ, some people say defense wins championships.  Do you embrace that?  Just talk about your metamorphosis in that area from when you weren’t so much this way.

RUSS SMITH:  If I didn’t play defense, I wouldn’t have been on the court.  Dating back the my freshman year and sophomore year, that was something I had to evolve into and Coach telling me there’s some things I can get better at.  We all know what defense can do.  It got us to the Final Four last year.  So we just stay solid and just keeping playing our defense, hopefully good things can happen.

Q.  Russ and Stephan, how important was it just to kind of set a even tone?  You saw Gonzaga had a tough game, Pittsburgh lost, Marquette struggled.  How important was it to come out and set a tone in the first game for the rest of the tournament?

RUSS SMITH:  We all knew this game was going to be tough watching the film, these guys play really hard and press and make it an uptempo game.  As far as wearing the other team out, at the same time, they’re doing the same to us.  It was a really up-and-down game and just to go out there and get a win in the first round is all we cared about, survive and advance.

Q.  For either of you, I know Louisville is only 60 minutes away, but you go into Rupp Arena and it’s filled with red.  What did that make you feel like?  What was your reaction to that?  How much did it help you guys on the court?

STEPHEN VAN TREESE:  It was definitely different.  Every time I’ve been here, it’s filled with blue and hardly any red.  Tons of fans here.  It was awesome.  I mean, definitely I feel like it helped our intensity especially early in the game, Russ and Peyton, they had so many deflections it was ridiculous.  They played great and I feel like the fans really helped us.

THE MODERATOR:  Russ, did you want to add anything?

RUSS SMITH:  What Van Treese said.  Coming in here into Rupp, the last time I was in here the field was blue.  Tonight I want to thank all the fans for coming out and supporting us.  We got off the a slow start.  Thanks to them, we were able to pull through.

Q.  When there was a dunk by Chane in the first half, there was I moment when everybody, all of you, had a good laugh.  Just the thoughts about that.  It seemed to reveal a lot about how close you guys are, the affection you have, and frankly, just came from the locker room, these guys were already teeing off on Chane, they’re talking about it.  Just your thoughts what does it say about your relationship?

RUSS SMITH:  Nobody expected Chane to miss that dunk.  Normally if somebody else was on the break and there was a guying running, I hustle behind because maybe I get a little scrap point.  I didn’t expect to miss that.  Thank God we got it back.  It was really funny.  I remember I did it last year, I thought we played in.  I got some talk from my teammates, too.  It was just super funny.

STEPHEN VAN TREESE:  I expect that more out of me than Chance.  I didn’t see that coming.

THE MODERATOR:  All right.  If that’s it for the student-athletes, you guys are excused.  Thank you very much.  Congratulations on the victory.

We’ll continue with questions for Coach Pitino.

Q.  Coach, first of all, the goal, your goals tonight for steals and deflections, can you just talk about so many deflections.  How many — I don’t know the guys were saying 60-something.

COACH PITINO:  67, 32 from the backcourt.  We made it a big goal to get 15 steals in the game.  We felt they were a trapping team.  We thought it would be a chaotic game by both teams.  We wanted to protect the ball.  Russ thought we got off the a slow start.  I was pretty pleased with the start.  You know, the way Peyton and Russ played defense tonight was amazing, because they kept moving their feet and staying in the plane without reaching in, into the other person’s plane.  I thought that was an amazing defensive effort by the backcourt.  Russ just had an awesome game.

Q.  Coach, you kind of chuckled there when Russ said you guys had a slow start.

COACH PITINO:  He doesn’t know — he’s working so hard, he has no idea what the score is, what’s going on.

Q.  How does that make you feel to hear your players talk so cerebrally about —

COACH PITINO:  I think Russ has really grown from someone who just wants to score all the time to a good passer.  In his freshman year, he made no attempt to play defense, and he’s gone from that to one of the premiere defensive players in the country who now we told him, Russ, do not drive sideline one time and he didn’t.

He was really, really good tonight mentally as well as physically.  He truly has arrived into a great basketball player.  Now we got to get him to settle down because he’s going to play against a much — Colorado State team wins, it will be much different than anything we’ve seen.  If Missouri — we’ve played them before, it will be more of an up-and-down game.

Q.  You guys are kind of chuckling about the game.  Right before you guys took the court, Gonzaga had some trouble with Southern.  How difficult is it to not start looking ahead and get your guys to realize that, yeah, there might be 16 but you still have to take them seriously?

COACH PITINO:  This is going to sound crazy.  It’s the only game in the tournament when I was at Kentucky, as well as Louisville, I hate the first round game when you’re a 1 seed, because normally you guys get a little tight, say we’re 1 seed, uh-oh, we could lose this game, and you start playing not to lose rather than to win.

I felt very good about this game because the opponent we were playing is a trapping, running team, so I felt good about the matchup.  North Carolina A&T is a well-coached team and well-drilled team.  They ran into a similar style tonight that was bigger, more talented.  So I felt good about that.  So sometimes you get the wrong opponent as a 16th.  We just got the right opponent.

THE MODERATOR:  One or two more for Coach Pitino.

Q.  Coach, how much do you talk about, you always talk did about here deflections, deflection, deflection.  How much do you talk about that in practice?  How much do you work on that?

COACH PITINO:  We work on it quite a bit because we don’t have — we have a very good scoring team, but we’re not a 3-point shooting team, and this year we have set a record for deflections like nothing I’ve seen.  I’ve never seen 32 from a backcourt in my life.  We want 35 for the game and you get 32 from the backcourt.

By the way, they only played 25 and — 25 and 26 minutes.  That’s even more amazing.  But that being said, it’s just one game against a trapping, running team, and, you know, we came in here last time and blew the doors off of Stanford and lost to Texas A&M.  It’s only one game.  We’ll put it behind us.  We’ll get ready for whoever wins this next game.

THE MODERATOR:  Any other questions for the Coach?  All right.  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

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Louisville Advances to NCAA 2nd Round Past North Carolina A&T 79-48

The University of Louisville Men’s Basketball program kicked off their 2013 Tournament Run in thrilling fashion in Lexington’s Rupp Arena against the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State Aggies on Thursday night.  The game was dubbed ‘Dunk Fest’ by Chane Behanan prior to the meeting and that rang true throughout thanks to an NCAA Record Number of Steals by the Cardinals (20).  Russ Smith led the way in the steal department with 7, and Peyton Siva added 5.

The Cards shot 56.4% from the game in a red-filled arena normally touting a blue hue the Cards took the first of six steps towards the NCAA Championship.  The game was full of distractions with Rev. Jesse Jackson in attendance and the North Carolina A&T Pep Band, Cheerleaders & Dancing Mascot but the #16 seeded Aggies sure could have used someone helping bring the ball up the floor as 4 different players logged 4+ turnovers.  These Cards have won two conference championships in Madison Square Garden and taken pictures with presidents, so the focus was there.

After the game Gorgui Dieng said that this was the type of focus he was talking about yesterday.  Now the Cards will take on the winner of the game happening now against Missorui/Colorado State.

Stay tuned for post-game quotes & locker room interviews but for now. Just enjoy this video of NC A&T’s mascot, cheerleaders and band during a timeout.

Louisville Wins Final Big East Championship: UofL 78-Syracuse 61

Madison Square Garden. The Best Basketball Conference in the History of College Basketball.  Your Louisville Cardinals. Champions.

We can get caught up in the hyperbole of the moment.  It’s true. But the Big East ceasing from existence is truly the end of an era and the Cards won 3 of the last 5 championships. But Louisville’s 3rd and Final Big East title was extremely improbable coming out of a 35-22 halftime deficit, and eventually swelled to 16 in the 2nd half.  But then something happened……

Syracuse stopped hitting low percentage shots.  Louisville started turning the ball over.  And Montrezl Harrell and Kevin Ware happened.  And happened, and happened, and happened.

With 15:59 remaining James Southerland made his final 3-point shot of a record breaking Big East Tournament, and then the Cards went to work down 16.  Hancock fouled on a 3-pointer. Russ 3. Van Treese follow. Gorgs Dunk. Montrezl made FREEL THROWSL!!  Gorgs jump shot, Siva Free Throws, DUNKL, 4 straight free throws from Hancock, K-Dub for 3, K-Dub Dunk. Siva foul shot, Siva jumper, JUMPL SHOTL, FREEL THROWSL!!!!  DUNKL! JUMPL SHOTL! Wayne hit a 3!

During the above stretch. Guess what Syracuse did?  They had a tip in, and 7 free throws.  From 15:59 to 2:06 in the 2nd half Louisville outscored Syracuse 44-9.

Peyton Siva was named the Big East Tournament MVP for the second consecutive year joining Patrick Ewing as the only player to hold that honor in back to back tournaments.  Siva also had four steals to break the career tournament record. Siva finished his career with 29 steals, breaking the old mark of 28, held by Pittsburgh’s Brandin Knight since 2003.

Siva was great in the first two games of the Big East Tournament and historically has had subpar games against the Syracuse Orange.  On Saturday night Siva still had his moments, but in the end persevered and finished with 11 points, 8 assists, 4 steals, and a block.  Siva was a big reason for Syracuse Guard Brandon Triche turning the ball over 7 times for the Orange.

Gorgui Dieng also provided a big lift.  Made baskets are at a premium against Syracuse.  It will always be that way.  But Gorgui moved the ball efficiently and finished with 9 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, and a block.  But for me, the story was really the play off the bench of Kevin Ware and Montrezl Harrell.  These two filled in the gaps.  For Ware when Russ Smith picked up his 3rd foul early in the 2nd half.  And for Montrezl because Chane Behanan just wasn’t having his best night.

Louisville now moves on to tomorrow night when they will learn their pairings for the NCAA Tournament.  The Cards have earned a #1 seed, but the main question now is whether or not UofL did enough to supplant Indiana for the #1 Seed in the Midwest Region and have the ability to play close to home in Lexington (Rupp) and Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium).

I’ll be adding pics, video, and other tidbits as I find them.

Cards Ship Irish Home Advance to Big East Final vs. Syracuse

The University of Louisville Cardinals advanced to the last modern era Big East Final as we know it today.  The Cards will play in the 4th Final in the Big East in the last 5 seasons and did so by dispatching a tough Notre Dame Fighting Irish team for the 2nd time in 3 tries during the 2012-13 season.

Once again the story was the back court with Russ Smith and Peyton Siva leading the way.  Some might call Louisville’s back court ‘spotty’ but those of us who have been paying attention know that Louisville’s guards are what makes the Cardinal engine go.  Russ Smith finished with 20 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, and a steal, while Peyton Siva also had an incredible night with 12 points, 7 steals, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, and just two turnovers.  Both players set Louisville records in the game.  Siva became the All-Time Career Steal leader for the Cards and Russ Smith broke Wes Unseld’s record for Made Free Throws in a single season.  I’ll update the record book in a separate posting.

Louisville did suffer a scare when Garrick Sherman stepped on Kevin Ware’s ankle but Ware was able to return to the game.  Chane Behanan did not have his best game for the second consecutive effort, however Luke Hancock continued his absolutely blazing play since starting the Big East schedule.

We’ll update the home page with post-game video, stats, and a preview of Syracuse in the coming hours.  Stay tuned. Louisville faces Syracuse in the Big East Final at 8:30 on ESPN.

Cards Beat Irish, Share Big East Title 73-57

The University of Louisville Men’s Basketball program righted a negative result from earlier in the season in what was a 5 Overtime defeat to Notre Dame.  On Saturday the Cards hit 51% from the floor and actually had 5 fewer shots than the Irish but were able run away with the game thanks to a HUGE effort from Gorgui Dieng.  The soon to be (maybe?) departing junior Center had perhaps his best game of the season in front of scouts from 5 different NBA teams with 20 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks, 3 steals, and an assist.

At Point Guard Peyton Siva also had a HUGE game in front of about family 30 family members who came from native Seattle to watch his final home game.  After the game Siva was buried under an avalanche of gifts from his family that were well-deserved. Siva finished with 13 points, 5 assists, 1 steal, 4 rebounds and just two turnovers.

Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey credited Louisville’s backcourt saying “Their guards are playing so well, getting really good at the right time.”  I think that is key.  Last season Peyton Siva had a breakout in March and led the Cards to the Final Four.  The same thing is happening here.  The thing that sticks out the most is how much this group seems to care about each other.  There is a strong bond in the locker room that really reminds me of last year’s run.

On the white board in the post-game locker room it was written: “9 games”.  And that is all that stands between Louisville and a National Championship.

Post-Game Video of Rick Pitino, Mike Brey, Peyton Siva, and Gorgui Dieng will be added later.  As well as additional nuggets.  Check back.