The Cardinals (27-8) advance to face North Carolina (35-2) Sunday in the Elite Eight. Tennessee (31-5) posted a school-record victory total but failed in its bid to become the first team in program history to advance to the Elite Eight. Louisville's Rick Pitino now stands 8-0 in Sweet 16 games, while UT's Bruce Pearl slips to 0-3.
The first sign that Thursday wasn't going to be Tennessee's night occurred when star post player Chism picked up two fouls in the opening minute and 45 seconds. The second sign followed shortly thereafter. With Chism on the bench, Louisville raced to a 24-8 lead. When Tyler Smith and JaJuan Smith picked up a fourth foul each midway through the second half, Tennessee's doom was sealed.
"We were in foul trouble all night long," Pearl noted. "Wayne Chism getting those two fouls early ... he was the one guy we couldn't afford to lose in that situation. It disrupted us."
Tennessee's defense was good for a half and bad for a half. The Vols forced 14 first-half turnovers but allowed Louisville to shoot a sizzling 66.7 percent (14 of 21) after intermission. Tennessee's offense, meanwhile, was awful all night long. The Vols shot just 32.7 percent (19 of 58) from the floor and 25 percent (5 of 20) from 3-point range. They also committed 17 turnovers.
"We just could never get in a rhythm," Pearl said on his post-game show. "It was unlike any game we played this year. We were in foul trouble. We struggled against their press. I've been coaching 15 years, and I've never had so much difficulty attacking a press and finishing."
With the point guards struggling, Tennessee desperately needed a big game from Lofton. He couldn't provide one, however. The senior All-American scored 15 points but sank just 3 of 15 shots, including 2 of 11 from beyond the arc. JaJuan Smith scored 12 points but produced just 4 after intermission. Tyler Smith added 11 points but got just 1 after the break.
"We got the ball down the floor, got pretty good looks, but just couldn't finish anything at the rim," Pearl said. "They (Cardinals) stayed on Chris and JaJuan very, very well. Our 1s, 4s and 5s couldn't finish at the basket."
With Chism and Tyler Smith spending a good portion of the game watching from the bench, Louisville dominated on the inside. The Cardinals outrebounded Tennessee 43-28 and blocked seven Vol shots.
After Louisville's opening salvo produced the 24-8 lead, Tennessee closed to 37-30 by the break. The Vols then scored the first six points of the second half to pull within 37-36.
Three baskets and a three-point play by Clark sparked a 15-5 Louisville spurt that widened the gap to 52-41, however, and the Vols never got closer than eight points thereafter.
"To the kids' credit, they battled, they played hard," Pearl said. "But that wasn't enough against a team as talented and well-coached as Louisville."