The Louisville Cardinals hadn't yet taken the court when Gonzaga was going through its scare against No. 16 Southern, but there's a good chance that game sent shockwaves through Rick Pitino's team before they hit the court for a 2013 NCAA tournament second-round game against No. 16 North Carolina A&T.
It showed with their play.
Louisville, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, dominated the game from the start and made sure there was no upset storyline in the top-left portion of your bracket Thursday afternoon.
The Cards had a 16-point halftime lead and nearly doubled it by the end of the game, winning 79-48 Thursday night in what might as well have been a home game in the team's home state of Kentucky.
Led by Russ Smith's 23 points and eight steals (a number that tied an NCAA tournament record) and Peyton Siva's six points, eight assists and four steals, the Cardinals forced 25 NC A&T turnovers, recorded 20 steals and shot 57 percent from the field en route to the 31-point win and the spot in the next round against the No. 8 Colorado State Rams.
In case you missed it, want to relive it or just like reading about Louisville basketball, here's a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the squad's first win of March Madness (hint: there won't be much bad).
The Good: The Defense
Any time you force 25 turnovers and get 20 steals, your defense is on point.
In fact, the Cardinals were only matched by one other team in defensive pressure Thursday night, and that team won't have a shot at Louisville until the championship game in Atlanta (VCU).
Seven Louisville players had a steal on the night, highlighted by Smith's monster game (eight) on the defensive end.
Smith, who can be a little bit of an offensive liability at times when he forces up shots, more than made up for that side of his game on the defensive end of the court, highlighted by two plays in the first half where he got loose for breakaway layups.
Louisville was one of the best defensive teams in the nation during the regular season. After faltering a little bit in the first half against Syracuse in the Big East tournament championship, the Cardinals turned it on en route to a 54-point half and a second-straight Big East tournament title.
It looks like the Cards brought that second-half effort all the way from Madison Square Garden to the NCAA tournament, and every team that has a shot at playing Louisville from here on out (a list that includes Saint Louis, Creighton, Duke and Gonzaga, among others) needs to take notice that careless plays are like quicksand against this team.
The Bad: The Three-Pointer
If you're going to harp on one thing from the big win, it has to be the three-point shot.
Normally a decent team from the outside, Louisville shot just 4-of-16, leading to a 25-percent performance. Smith and Wayne Blackshear, the team's two leading scorers, were the main cause of that problem, combining to shoot just 2-of-9 from the outside.
I hate to play devil's advocate after a win like this, but that kind of effort could prove costly against a team that takes care of the ball better than Syracuse did in the Big East tournament championship or NC A&T did Thursday night.
Look for Siva to create more havoc off the dribble to get shooters open looks in later rounds. To be fair, most of Louisville's offense was created off of turnovers, and that can lead to a slanted look at a shooting chart since the team never really had to get in the flow of its offense.
However, it's something to monitor as the Cards prepare for the Colorado State Rams Saturday night, and something Pitino will likely stress in practice and team meetings until then.
The Ugly: The Score
It looks good to Louisville faithful, but things got ugly on the scoreboard in Lexington.
In fact, 79-48 was one of the ugliest scores of the day, topped only by VCU dismantling of Akron—a team missing several key players Thursday.
In any event, the second-round win should give us pause to how dangerous Louisville can be in this tournament. Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports couldn't for the life of himself figure out which round of 32 opponent would give Louisville more problems before deciding on the obvious answer—neither:
Gregg Doyel @GreggDoyelStar
Trying to think of a way either Mizzou or Colo State gives Louisville a game in next round. Can't do it.3/22/2013, 2:37:42 AM
If the Cardinals of Louisville play like this for the rest of the tournament, we might not see any team that can match up with them or give them a game the rest of the way, either.
Of course, things can always change in a flash.
One thing that doesn't change is defense, though, and the Cardinals have enough of that to make a serious run towards Atlanta—whether the offense is clicking or not.
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