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.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!