James Crisp/Associated Press
Watching film of Louisville demolishing Colorado State is going to be scary enough for anyone who has to face the Cardinals over the next two weeks.
Hearing what coach Rick Pitino said afterward is going to be downright terrifying.
“We can play much better,” Pitino said. “This is the best we have played so far at both ends of the floor. ... But we can definitely get better and improve.”
It’s tough to see how.
Russ Smith scored 27 on 7-for-15 shooting, three other Cardinals reached double figures, and top-seeded Louisville put on a defensive clinic in dismantling Colorado State 82-56 on Saturday.
Louisville forced the eighth-seeded Rams into a season-high 20 turnovers and outrebounded Colorado State 29-24 – no small thing considering the Rams came in with a nation-best plus-12 margin. Colton Iverson and Pierce Hornung, the country’s best rebounding tandem, managed just eight.
Greg Smith led Colorado State (26-9) with 14 points, while Dorian Green, who’d scored 26 against Missouri, was held to just six on 2-for-13 shooting.
“I don’t want to put the pressure on Rick and his guys, but they’re special,” Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said. “They need a little luck like everybody does to win it all, but that’s as impressive team as I’ve been against, certainly.”
Louisville (31-5) will play 12th-seeded Oregon on Friday in Indianapolis. The Cardinals have won 12 in a row since a five-overtime loss to Notre Dame.
“Our preparation coming into every game has to be sky-high,” Kevin Ware said. “Coach P doesn’t allow any letdowns.”
Playing Louisville and its relentless press is about as much fun as facing a really angry octopus. The Cardinals look as if they have eight players on the floor, what with all the arms waving and bodies smothering whoever has the bad luck to have the ball, and when one guy sits down, there’s one just as physical right there to take his place.
Few teams have had much success against Louisville – there’s a reason the Cardinals are the overall No. 1 seed – but Colorado State seemed as if it might have a shot. The Rams run a motion offense that’s tough to defend, grab rebounds by the dozens and are a savvy, veteran team that doesn’t turn the ball over. In fact, when Pitino made out his “dangerous” list before the tournament began, Colorado State was on it.
“We were sick about this game,” Pitino said. “We really were.”
So much for that.
Colorado State actually shot the ball well – 47.5 percent. The Cardinals just wouldn’t let them do it very often, limiting the Rams to 18 shots in the first half and 40 total.
They hounded Colorado State when it was inbounding the ball; the Rams had back-to-back possessions in the first half when they couldn’t even get the ball in play. They circled Colorado State when the Rams brought it up, with more than one turnover coming on a desperation heave across midcourt to beat the whistle. And, of course, they clogged up every inch of the court where the Rams might have a view of their basket, repeatedly slapping the ball away or stepping in front of passes.
The Rams reached their season average in turnovers (11) by halftime, and topped their previous worst for the season (16) with 15 minutes, 33 seconds still to play.
“We’ve seen them against North Carolina A&T and some other teams and kind of get prepared for it. But you see the bodies out there flying around and doing what they do, it’s a lot different,” Greg Smith said. “It’s just total chaos. Some of those guys are just so fast, and you may think that you have an open lane, or you think the pass is coming, and they close it down so quick.”
Meanwhile, the Cardinals were scoring at will.
Two days after matching the NCAA Tournament record with eight steals, Smith’s well-rounded scoring line had Louisville fans chanting “Russ Arena” – sure to go over well with the Kentucky fans. Even LeBron James took note, saying on Twitter: “The lil homie Russ Smith putting on a show right now! (hasthtag)onfire”
After Daniel Berajano’s 3 pulled Colorado State within 21-19 with 9:12 left in the first half, Russ Smith went off. His 3-pointer sparked a 22-7 run that effectively put the game out of reach. Though five Cardinals scored during the spurt, Russ Smith did most of the damage with 13 points in about six minutes.
He finished the day 4-of-7 from long range, and missed only one of his 10 free throws. He also had three rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“Just give him the ball. It’s as simple as that,” Peyton Siva said of his backcourt mate’s hot streak. “He’s a scoring machine. He makes my job a lot easier. I just have to feed him the ball, get my assists up and get back on defense.”