The Louisville Cardinals — the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, many experts' pick to be crowned national champions and the last remaining No. 1 in the field — defeated the 12th-seeded Oregon Ducks, 77-69, Friday night to advance to the Elite Eight for the second-consecutive year.
Mike Rutherford, SB Nation's college basketball editor and head honcho of Louisville blog Card Chronicle, quoted Rick Pitino as saying "Russ Smith is the runaway player of the year." More from his recap:
A game Oregon team fought out of a hole all night, but never allowed itself to be buried. The Ducks trailed by as many as 18 in the second half, but used a stretch where they hit six consecutive shots to cut the lead to 70-64 with 5:13 to play.
Every time Oregon threatened to put Louisville's run to the national title in serious jeopardy, Russ Smith had an answer. The junior hit 9-of-16 shots and tied a tournament-high with 31 points. The performance lifted his three-game point total to a tournament-best 81.
Over at SB Nation's Oregon blog, Addicted to Quack, the mood was bittersweet. The Ducks' season came to an end, but they made the Sweet 16 when few could have predicted it. Blogger David Piper was eager to look to the future rather than dwell much on the game itself.
It's unfortunate that Oregon couldn't pull off the upset. But it was a great season, and there is no doubt that this program is back on the right track. To E.J. Singler, Arsalan Kazemi, Carlos Emory, and Tony Woods, thank you for an incredible run, and you will be missed. For the other guys, you've now seen big boy basketball. Keep this in your mind all offseason and, when you're here again, finish it.