Louisville's opening quarterfinal in the Big East Tournament Thursday night looked like a warm-up for a return trip to the Final Four. The Cardinals' defenders, outfitted in camouflage shorts, attacked Villanova over every inch of the Madison Square Garden court on the way to a 74-55 victory.
Louisville's Russ Smith lit up the Garden with 28 points, and backcourt partner Peyton Siva added 10 points and four assists. The Cardinals (27-5) forced 25 turnovers by the Wildcats (20-13) and had a 27-14 margin in points off turnovers.
Smith said he played with a heavy heart after the death of Jack Curran, his coach at Archbishop Molloy. "It was really sad, almost heartbreaking," Smith said. "I just wanted to do anything I could to win."
Louisville will meet the winner of Thursday night's late quarterfinal between Marquette and Notre Dame in a semifinal at 9 Friday night. JayVaughn Pinkston led Villanova with 21 points and Mouphtaou Yarou added 13 points and 11 rebounds. But freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono struggled, scoring three points and shooting 1-for-8 from the field.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino was delayed getting to the postgame news conference because of a locker room visit from former president Bill Clinton, who was at courtside. "President Clinton came back to say hello and take pictures," Pitino said. "It was a treat for these guys."
Gesturing toward Smith and Siva, Pitino said, "These two did a tremendous job. Russ had a heavy heart. His mentor, coach Curran, died. It was exciting that Russ could have that type of game and honor coach Curran tonight."
Arcidiacono was on the Big East all-rookie team and has a bright future, but he and the rest of the Wildcats' backcourt wilted under the relentless physical pressure applied by Louisville's defense. In the first half, Villanova committed 18 turnovers as the Cardinals took a 30-21 lead.
Smith and Siva totaled seven first-half turnovers themselves. But they also outscored Arcidiacono and fellow starting guard Darrun Hilliard 16-0.