Louisville guard Peyton Silva celebrates in the first half of Friday's win against Oregon, which left the Cardinals as the last No. 1 seed standing in the NCAA Tournament.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Supercharged point guard Russ Smith was great on Good Friday, slicing through the Oregon Ducks for 31 points to send top-seeded Louisville to the East Regional final with a 77-69 win at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Oregon practiced against six defenders to prepare for Louisville’s frenetic full-court pressure and passed that test, but the Ducks couldn’t keep pace with Smith. The junior seemed to have an extra gear and didn’t wear down despite playing much of the night without primary ballhandler and backcourt sidekick Peyton Siva.
Smith carried the offensive burden the first half but Louisville emerged from the halftime break sluggish.
Checking in after four minutes on the bench, the foul-riddled Siva ignited a 10-2 run to give Louisville a 66-48 lead with 8:51 remaining. Siva drilled a 3-pointer and assisted on another from Luke Hancock out of the corner to bring a sea of Cardinals’ red to its feet.
Oregon responded with a 7-0 run and narrowed the deficit to 70-64 on an acrobatic spinning jumper by freshman Damyean Dotson with just over five minutes to play.
That’s when Smith took over again. He shook two defenders to flip the ball to forward Chane Behanan for a two-handed dunk, then scored the final three points of the game for the Cardinals at the foul line, where he made 12 of 14 attempts.
With Siva -- the team’s leader in minutes played at 31.3 per game -- sitting for all but five minutes of the first half with two fouls, Smith and Kevin Ware combined for 25 points to help the Cardinals to a 45-31 advantage. The turbo-speed guards sparked a 14-1 run with four consecutive layups that pushed Louisville’s lead to 24-8. Smith got to the rim easily in the Cardinals’ half-court offense, and it didn’t take long for the sophomore Ware and Luke Hancock to learn the pickings were easy at the rim.
The Cardinals made 11 of their first 20 shots and tallied 28 points in the paint in the first half. Louisville didn’t apply the frenzied full-court pressure that led them to 47 forced turnovers in their first two NCAA Tournament games. The fresh legs paid off on the other end of the court.
The Ducks were able to stay above water thanks to freshman point guard Dominic Artis’ 10 first-half points.
NOTES: Friday’s regional semifinal was the fourth all-time meeting between the programs and first since Oregon’s 90-63 victory in 2001. … Louisville has reached the regional final in each of the three NCAA Tournaments it entered as a No. 1 seed, losing to Michigan State in Indianapolis in 2009 and advancing to the Final Four in 1983. … Only Kentucky (52), North Carolina (44), UCLA (43) and Kansas (42) have more NCAA Tournament appearances than Louisville (39). … Louisville lost to Duke 76-71 on Nov. 24 in the Paradise Jam tournament played in the Bahamas. Louisville will play Duke on Saturday for a Final Four berth if the Blue Devils defeat Michigan State later on Friday.