Tigers’ tough stance can’t slow Louisville
Posted: Monday, December 19, 2011 7:02 pm
By COLIN FLY
AP Sports Writer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Russ Smith can always provide an offensive boost for Louisville. His defensive contributions will keep him on the court even longer.
Smith set personal bests with 24 points and seven steals as No. 4 Louisville survived a rough-and-tumble matchup with former conference foe Memphis 95-87 on Saturday to extend the Cardinals’ home winning streak to 18 games.
“Seven steals is just a great accomplishment,” said Smith, who made the most of a rare start. “Anybody can get 24 points, but seven steals is really special.”
Coach Rick Pitino almost passed on Smith despite shining as a youngster at their basketball camps. But Smith grew from 5-foot-9 to a 6-foot frame and kept impressing Ralph Willard, who stepped down as the school’s director of basketball operations earlier this year.
“Ralph just kept saying, Russ is the guy we need,” Pitino said. “Russ was terrific. He’s got great hands. He has no fear. … I’m real proud of him.”
Gorgui Dieng added 14 points and 14 rebounds in the schools’ first meeting since the Cardinals (10-0) beat the Tigers (5-4) by a point to win the Conference USA tournament in 2005 before departing for the Big East.
Will Barton set career highs with 28 points and 16 rebounds for Memphis, which rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to take the lead before the Cardinals overwhelmed the Tigers down the stretch in a game that featured 54 fouls.
“It was like a war we ended up winning,” Dieng said. “It was physical.”
Louisville is off to its best start since the 1996-97 season and on its longest winning streak at home in 22 years. It took almost everything the Cardinals had to extend it.
After Memphis rallied from a 13-point deficit to take a 58-55 lead, the two sides traded baskets for 6 minutes until Louisville took control.
“They withstood our runs, and they made the last one that counted,” Barton said.
With the game tied, Chane Behanan hit two free throws, Rakeem Buckles finished a layup on a fast break, Dieng grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a shot in traffic, and Kyle Kuric finished an alley-oop slam from Smith to give the Cardinals a 78-70 lead with 4:49 to play.
Chris Smith’s 3-pointer gave Louisville an 83-73 lead and Tigers never got back within a possession as the Cardinals finished with seven players in double figures. Peyton Siva finished with 13 points, Buckles 12, Kuric and Smith 11 apiece and Behanan 10 for Louisville.
Joe Jackson scored 22 points for Memphis.
This game harkened back to the two schools’ time together in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Metro Conference and Conference USA with Memphis wearing throwback uniforms from their days under coach Gene Bartow in the early ’70s.
Published in The Messenger 12.19.11