Even a nasty cold can't stop Russ Smith. With his teammates struggling with the virus he gave them and top-seeded Louisville facing its...
INDIANAPOLIS — Even a nasty cold can’t stop Russ Smith.
With his teammates struggling with the virus he gave them and top-seeded Louisville facing its toughest test of the postseason, Russ put on his best show yet. He matched his career high of 31 points and the Cardinals proved they can win close games, too, beating Oregon 77-69 on Friday night.
“Without Russ Smith, we couldn’t win,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who improved to 11-0 in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
Louisville (32-5) moves on to play Duke on Sunday, hoping to advance to the Final Four for the second straight year.
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Louisville has been nearly untouchable during its 13-game winning streak, beating opponents by an average of 17 points. And it looked as if this was going to be more of the same when Smith outscored Oregon 9-8 through the first 10 minutes.
But the 12th-seeded Ducks (28-9) made a game of it late.
After Louisville went up 66-48 with 9:01 left, Oregon made six straight field goals to close to 70-64 — the closest anyone’s been to the Cardinals in the late going in weeks. But Kevin Ware scored on a layup and Chane Behanan threw down a monstrous dunk to put the game out of reach.
Ware finished with 11 points, topping his previous career best by one, and Gorgui Dieng had 10 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots. Point guard Peyton Siva from Franklin High School was limited to 19 minutes by foul trouble and finished with four points and three assists.
“Russ Smith is a talented young man. They’ve got a lot of talented players,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “When he got going, we didn’t have an answer.”
E.J. Singler’s 15 points led five Ducks in double figures. But Damyean Dotson had an off night, held without a field goal until five minutes were gone in the second half, and Oregon could never recover from its poor start.
Early foul trouble didn’t help, with Johnathan Loyd picking up his third before halftime and Dominic Artis and Carlos Emory playing the last six minutes of the half with two.
“If it wasn’t for the beginning, it would have been a completely different game,” Loyd said. “We just came out, we weren’t ready and we got smacked. If we were playing the way we were playing in the second half the whole game, it’s a completely different story.”
The Cardinals were barely tested in either of their first two games in the NCAA tournament, beating North Carolina A&T by 31 and Colorado State by 26. They set an NCAA tournament record with 20 steals against A&T, outrebounded one of the country’s best rebounding teams in Colorado State and left both teams with ugly shooting lines.