Russ Smith

Russ Smith, Luke Hancock each score 23 as Louisville survives SMU

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Through 20 minutes it looked like No. 12 Louisville was going to cruise to a double-digit win over SMU.

In the second half the Mustangs, who trailed by as many as 17 in the first half, fought back and cut into the deficit, keeping it at single-digits for the majority of the half. SMU kept it close until the game’s final moments when Montrezl Harrell put his stamp on the game game with an uncontested dunk before running back on defense — swatting a shot, then drawing a charge — to help the Cardinals pull out a 71-63 win over the Mustangs on Sunday afternoon.

SMU put forth a valiant effort in the second half, though the Ponies struggled to string together the necessary stops to cut it to a one-possession game. Luke Hancock scored 19 of his career-high 23 points in the second half, including 4-of-9 from behind the arc. All four of his 3-pointers came in the second half, many of them during important possessions for Louisville. The SMU defense continued to leave him enough space (or in some cases wide-open) for threes.

Russ Smith matched Hancock with a team-high 23 points along with seven assists, five rebounds and four steals. He helped force 10 of SMU’s 16 turnovers in the first half. The Louisville defense was much more aggressive in the first half, leading to transition buckets and a comfortable lead heading into the break.

SMU entered the game fresh off a win over No. 17 UConn — the first time the program had defeated a ranked opponent in a decade — while Louisville was looking to bounce back from a home loss to Memphis on Thursday. Sophomore guard Nic Moore was a big reason why the Mustangs upset the Huskies, but on Sunday afternoon he played limited in the first half after picking up two fouls, and ended the day 2-of-8 from the field for five points, five boards and four assists.

Moore looked to be out of sorts whether it was the Louisville defense or even an injury or illness. Moving forward, SMU — a team that could be on the bubble come Selection Sunday — will need more out of the transfer guard.

These two teams meet again on Mar. 5 at SMU.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: