It wasn't exactly easy on the eyes, but the Louisville Cardinals will gladly take their 66-51 win over the Saint Louis Billikens in Orlando on Saturday, advancing to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year. The defending champions will go on to face the winner of Wichita State and Kentucky, with the potential for a matchup against their bitter in-state rivals.
The first half was a particularly ghastly affair early. Both teams struggled mightily shooting, and Saint Louis ran into early foul trouble which shelved Jordair Jett and Rob Loe around the 10-minute mark. Jett was forced to go back into the game with two fouls, but managed to get to halftime without picking up his third.
Louisville could have easily run away from the cold-shooting Billikens, but the Cardinals had problems of their own on the offensive end. Russ Smith, who led the team with 18.3 points per game this year, didn't have a basket until the final minute of the half. However, they seemed to find their stride a little in the final minutes of the half and went into the break up 25-16. The best, and perhaps only, highlight of the first half? BLOCKED!
The Billikens came out of halftime with a renewed energy, and took the lead at 29-27 with just under 15 minutes remaining. The Cardinals quickly took back the lead, but they weren't able to shake off Saint Louis and close the game out comfortably. Luke Hancock dragged along the sputtering Louisville offense by himself, hitting a couple key three-pointers down the stretch to keep the Cardinals' heads above water. They would eventually snap out of their funk around the seven-minute mark, going on a 12-2 run to give them some much-needed breathing room in the form of a 50-37 lead with 5:30 remaining.
Hancock led all scorers with 21 points and added three steals, three rebounds and three assists. Chris Jones netted 11 points and Russ Smith had one of his worst games of the season, going 3-for-10 shooting and finishing with 11 points; he did have seven assists, though. Dwayne Evans finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds for Saint Louis, with Jett adding 15 points and Loe chipping in 10. The most telling stat of the game was St. Louis going 0-for-15 from three point range.