LEXINGTON, Ky. -- A few observations from Louisville's 82-56 rout of Colorado State on Saturday at Rupp Arena ...
Overview: Well, the NCAA gave the No. 1 overall seed Louisville a virtual home game, and the fans and Cardinals alike embraced Rupp Arena as if it were the KFC Yum! Center. This was Russdiculous, Lou-nacy, and flat-out Siva-licious for the Cards. Louisville took a few shots from Colorado State early -- and I stress early -- in the first five minutes. And then the Cardinals' press, and crowd, woke up and swallowed the Rams whole. The equally seasoned and mature, coffee-drinking Rams needed some sort of fix to get out from under Louisville's pressure. It was too much, and UL busted out to a double-digit lead and didn't look back.
This is a tournament of matchups, more than anything else. And while eighth-seeded CSU (26-9) handled the atmospheres of those legitimately fierce Mountain West arenas without wilting much, it was not in position to handle the blur of Louisville's clutching, grabbing, bumping and pestering press.
UL coach Rick Pitino was relentless in pushing the Cardinals to finish the job. He didn't let up as Louisville (31-5) teased the Rams at times, allowing them to hang around. Louisville has been simply sensational since halftime of the Big East tournament title game against Syracuse. The Cards have put the clamps on the Orange for 20 minutes, North Carolina A&T for 40 minutes and Colorado State for 35.
Turning point: The Cardinals trailed early but quickly caught up to tie the game at 8. But I'll go with the charge Montrezl Harrell took on Colton Iverson as the turning point. Iverson charged into the lane like a bull, going for a flush dunk that would have brought the Rams to within two at 20-18. Instead, Harrell stood there and got slammed, his head smashing against the court. The freshman forward stayed down for a second or two, then got up and tried to say he was OK. He went to the bench, chilled and ultimately returned. But that play seemed to ignite the Cardinals even more, and they raced to a 45-31 halftime lead.
Key player: Russ Smith finished with 27 points as he was able to get to the basket to draw fouls (after which he made 9 of 10 free throw attempts), kept the Rams guessing and also pulled up on the break for back-breaking big shots. Smith could be the MVP of this entire tournament when he's hot. He's on a roll right now, which should be danger for anyone ahead of Louisville in the Midwest Region.
Key stat: The 11 first-half turnovers were a major danger sign for the Rams. The one thing they couldn't do was give the ball away. Some of the turnovers were unforced, as CSU made a few passes across the top of the perimeter that were cut off. Just the slight hedge by Louisville had Colorado State guessing wrong.
What's next: Louisville is off to Indianapolis to the Sweet 16, where the Cards will have a decided advantage again over Oregon on Friday night.