While 1-seed Gonzaga had issues for much of their game against 16-seed Southern on Thursday afternoon, the top overall seed experienced no such issues. In front of a partisan crowd at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Louisville took care of North Carolina A&T by the final score of 79-48.
Russ Smith accounted for a game-high 23 points to go along with eight steals to pace the Cardinals (29-5), who take on the winner of Colorado State/Missouri on Saturday. On the night the Cardinals racked up 20 steals, using their pressure defense to force the overmatched Aggies into 27 turnovers.
Freshman forward Bruce Beckford was the lone North Carolina A&T (20-17) player to reach double figures, finishing with 12 points and four rebounds.
How much can be taken out of a game like this for Louisville? Clearly the caliber of opponent on Saturday will be much better than it was on Thursday regardless of who the Cardinals face. But Smith being relatively under control (he accounted for three assists and four turnovers) is what Rick Pitino’s team will need if they’re to return to the Final Four.
Louisville out-rebounded the Aggies 31-20, grabbing 12 offensive rebounds, and they also scored 44 points in the paint. Rebounding will be critical on Saturday, as both Colorado State (2nd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage) and Missouri (7th) rank among the best teams in the country when it comes to hitting the offensive boards.
After the first media timeout (Louisville led 6-4) the Cardinals eliminated any suspense, making sure that the Aggies wouldn’t hang around as Southern did in Salt Lake City.
The tests will get tougher for Louisville beginning with Saturday’s contest, but the Cardinals did little on Thursday to dissuade those who expect them to reach the Final Four.
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Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.
From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:
Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:
1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.
2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.
3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.
4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.
5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).
CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.
Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.
In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.
And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.
Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.
And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.
This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.