In the aftermath of the gruesome injury suffered by guard Kevin Ware in the first half, it was anyone’s guess how top overall seed Louisville would perform in the second half of the Midwest regional final against 2-seed Duke.
But after a slow start to the second stanza Rick Pitino’s team played at a very high level, blowing the game wide open with their ability to get to the paint at will and winning by the final score of 85-63.
Russ Smith paced the Cardinals, who are making their second consecutive trip to the Final Four, with 23 points while Peyton Siva added 16 points and Gorgui Dieng 14 and nine rebounds.
MORE: Louisville’s reaction to Ware injury wasn’t a surprise
Louisville shot 1-of-12 from beyond the arc but they haven’t been a particularly good three-point shooting team this season, hitting just 33.1% of their shots entering Sunday’s game.
But the Cardinals made up for it with points in the paint, outscoring the Blue Devils 42-30 and also tallying 14 second-chance points (to just five for Duke).
MORE: Duke runs out of answers in second half
Louisville will take on West Region champion Wichita State on Saturday, and if Rick Pitino’s team can attack the basket as they have since the Big East tournament the Cardinals will be tough to knock off.
Was there a dominant team in college basketball during the regular season? No.
But with the Cardinals playing as they have it’s difficult to argue that Louisville is not the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets next Monday night.
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.
The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.
The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.
They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.
That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.
So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.
Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:
With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.
At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes
“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:
“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”
“It’s all money.”
Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.
Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .
Want to talk about coaching luxuries?
Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.