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.
Louisville has been dominant 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 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, topping his previous career best by one, and Gorgui Dieng had 10 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots.
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.
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 were playing in the second half the whole game, it’s a completely different story.
DUKE 71, MICHIGAN ST. 61: In Indianapolis, Seth Curry shot the Blue Devils right into the regional finals – and put Mike Krzyzewski on the verge of another major milestone.
Curry scored 29 points to lead the second-seeded Blue Devils into the Midwest Regional final.
If Duke (30-5) beats top-seeded Louisville (32-5) in Sunday’s regional final, Krzyzewski would tie John Wooden’s record with 12 Final Four trips.
Michigan State (27-9) just couldn’t keep up with Curry and Duke’s shooters. The Spartans were led by Keith Appling with 16 points and Adreian Payne with 14. Curry’s sixth three of the game broke a 38-38 tie early in the second half, sending Duke on a 9-0 run. It never trailed again.