LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Pay attention, No. 1s. This is how it’s done.
Russ Smith scored 23 points and set a Louisville NCAA tournament record with a career-high eight steals, and Peyton Siva had eight assists as the Cardinals demolished North Carolina A&T 79-48 on Thursday night. Louisville finished with a season-high 20 steals as it forced the Aggies into 27 turnovers.
It was the 11th straight win for the Cardinals (30-5), and only their sixth victory ever at Rupp Arena. Of course, that’s because Louisville is usually facing Kentucky here, but the defending national champions are spectators these days after being bounced out of the first round of the NIT this week.
Rick Pitino and his Big East champions will play the winner of Colorado State-Missouri on Saturday.
No 16th seed has ever beaten a No. 1 and, unlike that Southern-Gonzaga squeaker that ended shortly before the Aggies and Cardinals tipped off, this one was never even a contest.
Oh, the Cardinals let A&T (20-17) hang around for a few minutes, giving the small handful of Aggies fans enough time to take photos of the scoreboard while the margin was still respectable. (OK, it was 6-4. Considering the Aggies had never even won an NCAA tournament game until Tuesday night, it was as good as a lead.)
Once Louisville stepped on the gas, however, this one was done.
The Cardinals silenced whatever questions there might have been about them deserving the No. 1 overall seed with a performance as impressive as it was unrelenting. Louisville shot better than 57 percent, and the only players who didn’t score were the benchwarmers who came in at the end of the game. The Cardinals scored on oh, so sweet finger rolls and rim-rattling dunks. They scored on layups and knocked down short jumpers. They hit from 3-point range and converted three-point plays.
And where to even begin with those guards.
Siva and Smith are arguably the best tandem in the country and, if they continue playing like this, Louisville will have a good shot at improving on last year’s trip to the Final Four.
With the game already out of hand, Siva and Smith combined for a 13-0 run that put Louisville up 67-37. Smith scored the first two baskets, Siva answered with two of his own and then Smith drilled a 3 from the corner. They finished it off with Siva scooping up a loose ball at halfcourt and dishing to Smith.
In the first half, they may as well have been playing keep-away for as much as they let the Aggies have the ball.
Gorgui Dieng blocked a jumper by Bruce Beckford, and Louisville got the rebound. Luke Hancock made a 3 at the other end, and North Carolina A&T didn’t even have time to set its offense before the Cardinals harassed Jeremy Underwood into a turnover. After a quick layup by Smith, the Aggies had the ball for just a couple of seconds before Siva snatched it away from Jean Louisme. Underwood quickly fouled Montrezl Harrell, who made the second of two shots.
Siva let the Aggies get near halfcourt before pouncing again for another steal. Smith missed the layup, and the Aggies managed to hold onto the ball long enough to not only take a shot, but get a 3-pointer from Adrian Powell.
Now, Louisville might make plenty of other teams look silly before the tournament is over. But the Aggies didn’t help themselves much, either. They were whistled for 10-second and shot-clock violations, and had to call a timeout because they were being smothered by Cardinals. They threw the ball away and took shots that had no prayer of going in.
And that was just in the first 10 minutes of the game. By the second half, the A&T pep band broke into a rousing rendition of Tupac’s “Keep Ya Head Up.”
Beckford led North Carolina A&T with 12 points.