March 14, 2013
NEW YORK, N.Y. - The No. 4 ranked Louisville Cardinals (27-5 overall, 14-4 BIG EAST) used intense full court defensive pressure and timely 3-point shooting to down the Villanova Wildcats (20-13 overall, 10-8 BIG EAST) 74-55 here in a BIG EAST Championship quarterfinal here on Thursday night. The Cardinals advance to a BIG EAST semifinal date on Friday night.
Russ Smith set the scoring pace with 28 points for the Cardinals. Louisville connected on 10-of-24 from beyond the 3-point arc on the night while the Wildcats converted just 2-of-12 from distance. Sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston led the `Cats with 21 points. Senior Mouphtaou Yarou contributed a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
"I just want to congratulate Louisville," stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. "They played an outstanding game. Their guards completely dominated the game. 18 turnovers in the first half was just a credit to them.
"The game was allowed to be played very physical. It was very fair. We just did not respond to the physical play. That's what happens (when) you turn the ball over like that."
A pair of baskets by Pinkston helped the Wildcats grab an early 4-0 lead but it wasn't long before Louisville's full-court pressure began to take a toll. VU committed five turnovers in the game's first five minutes and that helped create scoring opportunities for the Cardinals in transition. 3-point goals by Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock put Louisville in front 6-4 with 15:29 to play in the first period.
The pressure from the Cardinals served as fuel for Louisville's attack. The Cardinals got two more 3-pointers from Peyton Siva and forced six more turnovers to build an 18-8 edge less than eight minutes into the contest.
Villanova reeled off five points in a row to draw to within 18-13 with just under 11 minutes to play in the period. A James Bell 3-point goal was VU's first basket from beyond the arc of the evening.
The Wildcats trimmed the deficit to 22-19 before a Smith 3-pointer extended the Cardinals edge to 25-19 with 3:01 to go before halftime. The Cards outscored VU 5-2 the rest of the way in the period and the count was 30-21 at intermission.
"Once you get behind on them, they're not the kind of team you can press and turn over," state Wright. "They've got great guards and great quickness. The first half was the key. They didn't allow us to get the ball up into the front court where we could get the ball inside and get to the foul line."
Pinkston's eight points led VU in the period and Yarou contributed six points and seven rebounds. But the number that told the story of the half was the turnover column - the Wildcats committed 18 in the first 20 minutes and that helped give Louisville an 11-4 edge in points off of those miscues.
The Cardinals pushed the lead back to double digits early in the second half as Smith heated up. His steal and fast-break bucket with just under 16 minutes to play in the period pushed the Louisville lead to 41-28. The advantage grew to 51-31 after another Smith triple, this one set up by penetration into the key by Siva.
Villanova closed to within 56-44 after a scoring surge sparked by Pinkston but Smith came through again, sinking six straight points to rebuild the margin to 63-45 with 6:55 to go on the clock. The Wildcats would get no closer and the final count was 74-55.
"This team could win a National Championship," stated Wright of the Cardinals. "Louisville is a really good team. You take their talent and then put on top of that the fact that they've been there, that experience is so valuable."
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino credited his team's defense for the win. The Cardinals had dropped a 73-64 decision to the Wildcats on Jan. 22 at the Wells Fargo Center.
"We've been a good defensive team," said Pitino. "We know we have to be to win. We shot the ball well tonight. We did a lot of good things. When we went down there, it was our poorest game of the season. That's because Villanova made it the poorest game of the season with the way they played.
"So we studied that film, and we knew where we made our mistakes. Our backcourt played tremendous, and we got a tremendous lift from Stephan Van Treese."
"We're disappointed with this performance," noted Wright, "but I am happy with the progress this team has made. We'll go back, take a day off, and then get back into the gym and try to get better. We want to play as many games as we can so that we can keep improving."