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Clutch shooting by Luke Hancock leads Louisville past Saint Louis, 66-51

Louisville forward Luke Hancock aims for the basket

Louisville forward Luke Hancock aims for the basket as Manhattan forward Ashton Pankey (30) defends during the first half in a second-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament Thursday, March 20, 2014, in Orlando, Fla. Credit: AP / Phelan M. Ebenhack

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Defending national champion Louisville is headed back to the Sweet 16, thanks to clutch shots from Luke Hancock and strong perimeter defense in a 66-51 victory over Saint Louis Saturday afternoon at the Amway Center.

The fourth-seeded Cardinals (31-5) led just 35-33 with 11:42 left in the game, but Hancock -- who had eight straight points Thursday to rally Louisville past Manhattan -- hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions, the second sparking a 12-2 run that put the game out of reach.

"We had to go to him because he's our clutch guy," coach Rick Pitino said. "I said, 'Guys . . . you're going to have to be the prettiest team in an ugly game.' The emphasis we put on taking the three-point shot away was big . . . we were real proud of our effort defensively. We grinded out a win, and that's what the NCAA Tournament is all about."

Louisville advances to face the winner of Sunday's game between No. 1-seeded Wichita State and eighth-seeded Kentucky. Getting there was easier Saturday than it was in their opening game Thursday against Manhattan, where former Pitino assistant Steve Masiello had his team ahead in the final minutes before the Cards rallied.

Saint Louis (27-7) also rallied from 14 points down with five minutes to play Thursday in an overtime win against N.C. State, but couldn't pull that off against Louisville's perimeter defense. The Billikens, who had gone 9-for-18 on three-pointers against the Wolfpack, went 0-for-15 beyond the arc.

"We knew coming in that this was a big three-point shooting team and a big duck-in team," forward Montrezl Harrell said. "We knew if we took those two things away from them, they'd have a hard time scoring."

Pitino said he even used a modified 1-1-3 zone defense to put a priority on limiting the Billikens' outside looks, a move that proved a key to their smooth victory.

"We went to a different type of zone to make sure there were no bumps where they could pop out and get a three," Pitino said. "We wanted to smother the three. We were just successful tonight, but we weren't going to give up the three."

SLU got 16 points and 10 rebounds from forward Dwayne Evans, and coach Jim Crews said the loss doesn't take away from his team's third straight NCAA appearance.

"That won't overshadow what these seniors have done," Crews said. "They've had an amazing career, won more games than any other class. Big picture, I couldn't be more proud, and salute these guys for a wonderful career."

Louisville had balance behind Hancock's 21 points, with guards Russ Smith and Chris Jones scoring 11 and Harrell had 10 with 11 rebounds.

New York Sports