March 23, 2013
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - One after another after another after another, the Louisville Cardinals kept coming.
And there was nothing Colorado State could do to stop them.
"We just got ambushed," Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said. "I thought if we could do certain things, we could hang with them. I really did. You really don't know how good they are until you have to sit there and watch them come at you. ... You look at this box score and it seemed like they got every rebound and it seemed like they made every shot.
"The stats don't really indicate just how well-prepared and detailed this team that we just lost to is," he added. "I haven't gone against somebody like that in a long, long time."
Russ Smith had another big night for the top-seeded Cardinals. But it was the defensive clinic that Louisville put on in its 82-56 victory that leveled the eighth-seeded Rams.
Louisville forced the Rams into a season-high 20 turnovers and outrebounded them 29-24 - no small thing considering Colorado State 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 the Rams (26-9) with 14 points while Dorian Green, who'd scored 26 against Missouri, was held to just six on 2-of-13 shooting.
It was the 12th-straight victory for the Cardinals since their five-overtime loss to Notre Dame. Syracuse is the only team that's gotten within 10 points during that run, falling 58-53 on March 2.
"Someone is going to have a hot night and get them on an off night," Wes Eikmeier said. "When Russ Smith gets going and Peyton Siva's getting in the lane, oh, they're a handful."
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 equally 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 Louisville coach Rick Pitino made out his "dangerous" list before the tournament began, Colorado State was on it.
"I thought they were a great team," Pitino said. "We were sick about this game. We really were."
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' 11 turnovers at halftime was just above their season average, and they topped their previous worst for the year (16) with 15:33 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, Russ 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, 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, 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.
It was a bitter end for the six Colorado State seniors. The group set a school record with 26 victories this year, and their victory over Missouri on Thursday night was Colorado State's first in the NCAA tournament since 1989.
"I don't want this game to define our season. I told the guys that with a lot of tears in the locker room," Eustachy said. "This is one of the few teams - it's the only team - I didn't want the season to end. I really wanted to go to practice on Monday. But we caught as well-coached a team as I've ever played against. And I think that's saying something."