ORLANDO, Fla. — Rick Pitino built his coaching reputation on taking advantage of the 3-point shot, but in a bit of irony, the Louisville Cardinals advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament by shutting down that shot.
Louisville defeated Saint Louis 66-51 on Saturday in a Midwest Regional game, in large part, by forcing the Billikens into 0-for-15 shooting from behind the 3-point line.
“We felt if we gave up the 3, we were going to get beat tonight,” Pitino said. “We went to a different type of zone — almost a 1-1-3 — so there were no bumps where they could get a 3. We were going to smother the 3 the entire game and hang our hat on that.”
The Cardinals did, but they also turned loose their own gunner, forward Luke Hancock, and he made enough bombs to allow Louisville to survive a second-half scare from Saint Louis. The Billikens started the second half with a 13-2 run to take a 29-27 lead with 14 minutes left.
Hancock, who started the game with two 3-pointers, made two more as the Cardinals responded with a 23-8 spurt that allowed them to regain control of the game.
“It’s important that we go to him in situations like that because he’s our clutch guy,” Pitino said.
Hancock said, “It doesn’t surprise me that they leave me open because they should be guarding Russ Smith. He’s the All-American. We wanted to give them 40 minutes of pressure to wear them down and I think it worked.”
Hancock finished with 21 points. Guard Chris Jones, who made the Cardinals’ other two 3-pointers, finished with 11 points as did guard Russ Smith, who also contributed seven assists.
Saint Louis (27-6) got 16 points and 10 rebounds from forward Dwayne Evans and 15 points and seven assists from guard Jordair Jett, but the Billikens could not find their touch from the perimeter at any time in the game.
Center Rob Loe finished with 10 points for the Billikens, who shot a respectable 55 percent (21 of 38) from two-point range, but the 0-for-15 from behind the arc was too much to overcome.
“Obviously, we would have wanted it another way, but they were good shots,” Evans said. “We had the right guys in the right spots, but I guess you have days like that.”
The Billikens also committed 18 turnovers, giving Louisville 25 points. Saint Louis forced 19 turnovers by the Cardinals but got only 19 points off them.
“We didn’t play particularly well,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. “We knew if we weren’t strong with the ball, that would lead to good things for Louisville and that is how the game played out. They keep you off balance, which is a good thing because basketball is a rhythmic game and they kept us out of our rhythm.”
Saint Louis had some rhythm to start the second half, hitting Louisville with a 13-2 run, fueled in equal parts by Jett’s offense and poor shooting by Louisville.
The Cardinals missed their first 10 shots from the field in the second half and turned the ball over three times, opening the door for a Billikens rally that Jett was happy to lead.
The Saint Louis senior guard scored two driving layups and fed Loe and Evans for layups as the Billkens spurted ahead 29-27 with 14 minutes to play in the game.
“I don’t even know what happened there,” Smith said of Louisville’s awkward start. “All of our games are going to be ugly and that was ugly. We are the defending champs and everyone wants to come right at us, but we didn’t back down.”
Smith finally got the Cardinals untracked, hitting a driving layup and two free throws. Harrell followed with a second-chance basket and Louisville was back on track with a 33-29 lead and 13 minutes left in the game.
The Cardinals pushed the lead to 50-37 with aggressive defense and getting Hancock open at the offensive end. Hancock knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers and guard Chris Jones hit another one as Louisville regained control of the tempo.
The Cardinals held Saint Louis scoreless for a five-minute stretch while on a 12-2 run that ended with guard Terry Rozier getting a tear-drop layup to
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