NEW YORK — Never mind making shots. Villanova had a hard enough time hanging onto the ball against Louisville’s dynamic defense.
Russ Smith scored 28 points in a bittersweet homecoming, leading No. 4 Louisville into the Big East tournament semifinals with a 74-55 victory over the Wildcats on Thursday night only hours after the death of his esteemed high school coach.
The defending champion Cardinals (27-5) harassed Villanova into 25 turnovers that led to 27 points.
“We couldn’t get the ball over halfcourt,” coach Jay Wright said. “Their guards were in us, man. They did a heck of a job. That takes a lot of effort. They were very, very good.”
JayVaughn Pinkston had 21 points for the seventh-seeded Wildcats (20-13), confident they’ll receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament Sunday thanks to a string of high-profile wins against top-notch opponents. Mouphtaou Yarou added 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“I think we’ve got a good enough resume, but I haven’t followed it to know it well enough,” Wright said. “We’ll regroup on Saturday, and then we’ll see where we are.”
Despite the loss, the Wildcats do indeed appear to have solid NCAA credentials. They have three wins over top 5 teams this season, plus a victory over Marquette, which shared the Big East championship with Louisville and Georgetown.