Louisville pummels Colorado State, heads to Sweet 16
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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- It would have been only natural if, when Colorado State's coach and players began praising the opponent, Louisville had taken the words right out of their mouths. That didn't happen, though. It was the only time all day that Louisville didn't stop them.
"As impressive as I've ever seen," said Larry Eustachy, who has been a head coach since 1990. It is a rare day when he witnesses anything like the 82-56 thrashing at Rupp Arena Saturday that will send Louisville to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Just getting the ball up the court against Louisville's pressure was an uphill struggle. Completing a pass was next to impossible. Dribbling was perilous. Colorado State kept trying to do things it knew it shouldn't -- like having 6-10 center Colton Iverson bring the ball upcourt -- because it just didn't have time or space to think.
"We just got ambushed. We were as prepared as we could be, but you can't simulate how they come at you," Eustachy said, after the University of Kentucky's home court turned into a giant, red-shirted indoor tailgate party for the host school's in-state archrival. Even in terms of noise, it was a blowout.
Greg Smith played a near flawless game for the losing side (4-for-5 from the floor, 5-for-6 from the line). And still he was mystified, holding his head in his hands. "You kind of get prepared for it, but when you see the bodies flying around, doing what they do, it's a little different," he said. "I'd just describe it as total chaos. Some of those guys are so fast. You may think you have an open lane for passing. And they just close it down so quick."
By coach Rick Pitino's count, Louisville (31-5) had 45 deflections. Many of those led to easy baskets, particularly during a telling 12-2 stretch late in the first half. Russ Smith scored 27 points and grinned a little when he was reminded that someone began a Twitter account calling the hallowed place "Russ Arena."
The roars were intense when Peyton Siva (10 points, five assists) passed for alley-oop dunks, or when Gorgui Dieng (12 points) slammed the ball home off offensive rebounds.
In perhaps the greatest slap of all, the Cardinals even beat the Rams (26-9) at their own game. The latter is considered perhaps the best rebounding team in the country. But Saturday, Louisville won the rebounding contest 29-24.
Pitino called it the best game of the season for his team, which won the Big East Tournament and is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAAs. He attributed it to the quality of the opponent. "Our respect for Colorado State is off the charts," the Louisville coach said, calling Eustachy's squad "a great team."
Saturday, Colorado State had a great big headache that came in relentless defensive waves. "I work really hard, man. For big games, I really like to prepare myself," Russ Smith said. "If coach is not tired, we can't be tired."
If Pitino tires of anything, it might be hearing other coaches predict a national title for Louisville. Colorado State's coach was the latest to do so.
"I don't want to put any pressure on Rick and his guys, but they're special," Eustachy said. "They need a little luck, like anybody does, to win it all. But that's as impressive a team as I've been against."