Cards roll into Big East semifinals

No. 5 Louisville (26-5) rolled past Providence 73-55 Thursday afternoon in the Big East quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden. The Cardinals will play No. 10 Villanova Friday night in the Big East semifinals.

Earl Clark and Samardo Samuels combined for 46 points to lead Louisville to a relatively easy win over Providence Thursday afternoon in the Big East quarterfinals. The Friars had no answer for the Cardinals two big men – with Clark posting a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds, while Samuels added 22 points and seven rebounds.

The two combined to make 20 of 28 shots from the floor, while handing out 10 of Louisville's 20 assists. Samuels also blocked three shots, while Clark added two steals, one blocked shot and added a three-pointer.

"Earl and Samardo gave us a big lift," Rick Pitino said. "Samardo took it very strong to the rim and played above the rim on a couple of jump hooks. I thought he did a very good job of rebounding – he got five offensive rebounds tonight. Him and Earl both played very, very special. Earl did a lot of really good things, except he's got to cut down on his turnovers and be stronger with the basketball."

It wasn't a pretty display for top-seed Louisville. The Cardinals made just 15 percent of their 19 three-point shots, but the Cardinals advanced using old reliable – ferocious defense.

The Cardinals held the Friars to just 26 percent shooting in the first half while building a 34-24 halftime lead. For the game, Louisville held high-scoring Providence to only 33 percent shooting, including just 2 of 17 (11.8 percent) from behind the arch. Louisville also forced 26 turnovers, using their full court press to generate 16 steals.

"If we gave them the three or transition we could get beat," Rick Pitino said. "We did a good job keeping them out of transition and a very good job defending the line. We dogged the ball and it took a lot out of effort out of our guys but they did a good job."

Earl Clark had a big game against Providence,
leading Louisville with 24 and 10.

Despite a sub-par effort from All-Big East first team forward Terrence Williams, Louisville was never really threatened. Louisville built a 16-point first half lead after Earl Clark's dunk at 5:58. Providence cut Louisville's 10-point halftime lead to five with 16:30 left but the Cardinals used an 8-0 run during a three-minute stretch midway through the final period to push the lead back to 51-37. Providence got no closer than 11 points in the game's final 10 mintues.

Williams struggles began on a wide-open missed dunk in the game's first few minutes. Louisville's senior forward made just 1 of 7 shots but did make 4 of 4 free throws to finish with six points. Williams also contributed seven boards, five assists and four steals – and also four turnovers.

"T-Will didn't play like typical T-Will tonight," said Pitino. "He got a little upset missing the dunk and he lost his focus. But I'm almost glad he had a bad game tonight because humility is the best thing for everybody. He'll come loaded for bear (Friday)."

While Louisville couldn't get anything going from beyond the arch, the Cardinals did manage to connect on 30 of 62 shots, a respectable 48.4 percent overall. Louisville also hit their free throws against the Friars, connecting on 10 of 14 from the charity line.

"I think we were a little nervous," Pitino said. "(Providence) had to have this game and was desperate to (win) this game. We knew that and our defense prevailed. We didn't handle the basketball like I would have liked but I had to play a lot of guys like Jared (Swopshire) and Kyle (Kuric) and they got a little nervous going in there. It was good for Kyle because we may need him somewhere along the way."

Louisville held Sharaud Curry to just six points after the Friars point guard torched DePaul for 25 points in Wedensday's victory over the Blue Demons. Providence guard Weyinmi Efejuku led the Friars with 17 points. Geoff McDermott added 11 points and eight boards, while Jonathan Kale finished with nine points and eight rebounds.

The Cardinals will play either No. 4-seed Villanova or 5-seed Marquette Friday night at 7 p.m. in the Big East semifinals. Louisville beat Villanova 61-60 Jan. 10 in Philadelphia and downed Marquette 62-58 March 1 at home.

NOTE Earl Clark topped the 1,000 career point mark at UofL with his 24 points against Providence.

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