Analysis: Defense lifts Cards to Sweet 16

Russ Smith sparked Louisville's offense in the first half, then turned up his defensive effort after halftime as the Cardinals seized control with an 18-4 run in the opening minutes of the second half.

Louisville beat New Mexico 59-56 in the NCAA Tournament third round Saturday night to advance to the West Region semifinals against the Michigan St./St. Louis winner. A hard fought defensive struggle, Russ Smith fueled the offense with 17 points, while the Cardinals made enough defensive stops late to keep dancing. Here's instant analysis of the game:

IT WAS OVER WHEN: Louisville in-bounded the ball to Elisha Justice with 2.1 seconds. New Mexico, trailing 59-56, quickly fouled the Cardinals sophomore guard, who missed the front end of the bonus. Drew Gordon's desperation full court heave at the buzzer missed its mark and Louisville was on the way to its first NCAA regional semifinal after a two year absence.

KEY STATS: 46.7 and 21.7
In a matchup between two outstanding defensive teams, Louisville's defense, particularly on the perimeter, proved the difference in the end. While Louisville held New Mexico to 5 of 23 (21.7 percent) three-pointing shooting, the Cardinals made 7 of their 15 (46.7 percent) three-point attempts. Russ Smith was 3 for 3 off the UofL bench, while Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith both hit 2 of 5 threes. Louisville also forced 13 turnovers and blocked five shots.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: With New Mexico focused on stopping Peyton Siva, Russ Smith provided the offense for Louisville, scoring 17 points. Smith, who scored nine first half points, made back to back threes late in the first half to give the Cardinals a 26-25 lead at the break. In the second half, Smith helped Louisville build a 15 point advantage with a steal and three-point play for a 41-29 lead. Smith, who also had 3 steals and two boards, made two key free throws with 1:32 left as Louisville held on against New Mexico.


Drew Gordon had a big game but didn't get much help as Louisville beat New Mexico 59-56 in a defensive struggle.
BIG PLAY: After New Mexico had whittled Louisville's 15 points lead down to two in the final minute, Peyton Siva probed the lane and found Gorgui Dieng slashing toward the basket for a monster slam that gave the Cardinals a 57-53 lead with :32 seconds remaining. Dieng then came up with a loose ball at the other end with :13 second and Peyton Siva made two free throws for a six point lead.

TURNING POINT: With no decision in the first 20 minutes, Louisville opened the final period with an 18-4 run to seize control of the game in the opening minutes after the break. Leading 44-29 with 13:02 remaining, Louisville withstood New Mexico's counter - a 17-5 run - down the stretch.

TOP RESERVE Russ Smith out-scored the Lobos bench 17-13, which essentially was the difference in the game. The ultra-quick sophomore sparked the Cardinals offense in the first half, then came up with two second half steals, in addition to his big three-point play and two late foul shots to close out Louisville's sixth straight victory.


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