INDIANAPOLIS — Louisville survived its first test.
Russ Smith matched his career high with 31 points to lead three Cardinals in double figures, and top-seeded Louisville showed it can win close games, too, beating Oregon, 77-69, on Friday night.
Kevin Ware added 11 and Gorgui Dieng had 10 points and nine rebounds for Louisville, which has won 13 straight. Coach Rick Pitino improved to 11-0 in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
“We dug ourselves a pretty big hole and weren’t able to come back,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “Louisville is a very good basketball team and very talented. Smith got going to the basket and we just never got him slowed down.”
The 12th-seeded Ducks (28-9) at least 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 a couple of weeks.
But Kevin Ware scored on a layup and Chane Behanan threw down a monstrous dunk to put the game out of reach. Still, Oregon is only the second team to be within single digits at the buzzer during Louisville’s run.
Louisville (32-5) moves on to play the winner of Michigan State-Duke on Sunday, hoping to advance to the Final Four for the second straight year.
E.J. Singler’s 15 points led five Ducks in double figures, and the Ducks had only 12 turnovers — one fewer than the Cardinals. But Oregon could never recover from its poor first half, when the Ducks were plagued by foul trouble — Johnathan Loyd had three before halftime — and an off night by Damyean Dotson. The freshman was huge in Oregon’s victory over Saint Louis, scoring a career-high 23. But he was 0 for 6 in the first half, and didn’t make a field goal until midway through the second. He finished with 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
“It wasn’t there in the first half,” Arsalan Kazemi said.
The Cardinals were barely tested in either of their first two games, beating North Carolina A&T by 31 and Colorado State by 26. They set an NCAA record with 20 steals against A&T, outrebounded one of the country’s best rebounding teams in Colorado State and left both teams with ugly shooting lines.
But the Cardinals were tested many times Friday night.
Peyton Siva spent the last 15:19 of the first half on the bench after picking up his second foul. But even without their floor general, the Cardinals didn’t miss a beat thanks to Smith. He hit a 3 to spark a 14-3 run that put Louisville up 24-8, and the game seemed to be all but over.
Smith had seven points during the spurt. When he finished the run with a layup, it was Russ Smith 9, Oregon 8.
The Ducks weren’t going away that easily, though. After Luke Hancock’s 3 capped a 12-2 run that put Louisville up 66-48, the Ducks would make six straight field goals. When Dotson knocked down a jumper with 5:12 remaining, it got Oregon within six, the closest it had been since early in the first half.
Closest anyone had been to Louisville since the Big East tournament, actually.
But part of what makes the Cardinals so imposing is their maturity — and their options, which seem endless. Instead of panicking, the Cardinals regrouped and regained control, and the Ducks never threatened again.