Louisville’s defense was so good Thursday night, it made Michigan State look downright ugly.
The Cardinals held the West’s top seed to just 44 points – a record by a 1 seed in the shot clock era – and 28.6 percent shooting, the worst for any Tom Izzo team in the NCAA tournament. The Cardinals pressed, harassed and badgers the Spartans bad shot after bad shot.
In fact, Michigan State had more turnovers (15) than made shots (14). That’s exactly what Louisville coach Rick Pitino wanted.
“You know what our press does a lot of times? It just wears people out. We didn’t really want to trap them. We wanted to run and jump to get to the legs,” Pitino said. “Certain people we try to create steals or traps or rotate. Tonight we just tried to get into our zone, wear them out and neutralize the backboard.”
Perhaps the Cardinals benefited by playing so many different styles of basketball this season. Or maybe a week’s worth of prep time is just asking for Pitino to beat you. But it didn’t take a genius to figure out who Louisville needed to rely on.
Waiting for the Spartans was 6-11 center Gorgui Dieng, who blocked seven shots (tying the school’s tournament record) and played all 40 minutes. That also was by design.
“We felt that if we could keep Gorgui in the game we could beat them,” Pitino said. “And everybody had to guard the middle, contain the basketball and keep Gorgui from getting in foul trouble. And he played a brilliant game.”
Dieng will undoubtedly play a key role in Saturday’s regional final as well. Florida features more ball-handlers than Michigan State, but less size inside. Only center Patric Young presents a matchup issue for Dieng, who’ll be tasked with altering shots of the Gators’ wily guards.
One more dynamic defensive game, and he’ll get to block shots in the Final Four, too.
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