Before the season started, I picked Louisville to win the national championship. I re-affirmed that belief on Selection Sunday. The Cardinals have done nothing to change my mind so far in the NCAA tournament.
Louisville took an Oregon team that was much better than its No. 12 seed, and raced to a big lead. The Cardinals took the best shot the Ducks could throw, and survived and advanced to Sunday's regional final in Indianapolis.
Lucas Oil Stadium sounded like the Yum Center at times in the eight-point Cardinal victory.
The story of the game was the first 10 minutes. Louisville was able to score inside at will. The Cardinals shot 61 percent, the Ducks 25 as Louisville built up a 24-8 lead. Louisville was able to extend the lead with Peyton Siva on the bench with two fouls less than five minutes in. Kevin Ware came in and provided some solid minutes.
Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng got off to fast starts. In fact, the trio of Smith (16 in the first half), Ware and Dieng outscored the Ducks 33-31 in the opening half. Smith has scored 20 or more in all three NCAA tourney games.
Smith was the star of stars, finishing with 31 points.
Louisville has now won 13 straight games. Defense has been a big factor as no opponent has scored more than 69 points in that 13-game span.
Domenic Artis tried to rally the Ducks, hitting a couple of trifectas as Oregon made a run.
This was Rick Pitino's 900th game as a collegiate coach. His record is now 661-239. The future Hall of Famer has been special in March, going 50-18 in the month of madness since 2005. With 45 NCAA tournament wins, Pitino is behind Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim among active coaches. How good as he been with the Cardinals? This is Louisville's fourth Elite Eight appearance in six years.
The loss ended any hopes for a Pac-12 team cutting down the nets in Atlanta.
How about a salute to Louisville!