Wave after wave, the Louisville defense kept coming at North Carolina A&T.
The result was predictable as top-seeded U of L rolled to a 79-48 NCAA Midwest Regional victory Thursday.
Even Cardinals Coach Rick Pitino was stunned by his team's season-high 67 deflections — nine more than the previous best against Villanova. (U of L doesn't keep records in that category, but 67 is believed to be an all-time best.) Guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith had 16 deflections each.
"I've never seen 32 from a backcourt in my life. We want 35 (as a team) for the game and you get 32 from the backcourt," Pitino said. "By the way, they only played 25 and 26 minutes. That's even more amazing."
Smith finished with a career-high eight steals. Siva and Wayne Blackshear each had four.
A&T, a 16 seed, finished with 27 turnovers to U of L's 16, the Cards outscoring the Aggies 34-16 off turnovers.
Add to that a total dominance in the paint, where Louisville finished with a 44-16 advantage in points and a 31-20 margin in rebounds.
So it's on to Saturday's round of 32 in Rupp Arena.
Smith led U of L (30-5) to its 11th win in a row with 23 points. Blackshear had 12 and Siva had six, plus eight assists.
Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan scored eight each. Dieng and Stephan Van Treese each grabbed seven rebounds.
"They're quick and they're big and they have exceptional quickness" Aggies Coach Cy Alexander said of Louisville. "And they're strong, and they come at you in waves and don't let up. One is coming and there's another set coming. And we tried to do too much individually early on."
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With A&T alum the Rev. Jesse Jackson in attendance, the Aggies (20-17) never led.
A&T's Bruce Beckford scored 12 points and Lamont Middleton had nine, each finishing with four rebounds.
Tied at 2, Louisville went on a 23-6 run. The Cards forced 14 first-half turnovers, which led to 16 points and a 47-31 lead at intermission.
"Coach has been saying the whole week it doesn't matter who we play," Dieng said. "We just need to be humble and stay focused, and I think we did it tonight."
Smith scored 11 points in the first eight minutes of the second half as U of L blew out to a 68-37 lead and held the Aggies scoreless for nearly seven minutes.
Pitino said the Aggies were "much better than their performance. They just ran against another trapping team that had more length, more size, more quickness. ... We ran into the right opponent in the first game."
Once in the half-court, A&T shot well — 17-for-41 (41.5 percent). But not well enough to counter U of L's 31-for-54 (57.4 percent). Too much pressing and running.
"Russ and Peyton are really, really quick. Kevin Ware is really, really quick," said Luke Hancock, who scored five points off the bench. "And I feel like we all have each other's backs on the press. Once somebody's turning on somebody, there's somebody else to jump him. And if you don't get the steal right away, we're back pursuing pretty hard, and we force a lot of turnovers."
In addition to Hancock and Ware (five points), U of L got lifts off the bench from Van Treese (four points off of two dunks) and Montrezl Harrell (eight points off three dunks and two free throws).
Harrell's first throw-down came soon after entering the game and fueled a 10-0 spree.
"That's just how I am. I just want to come off the bench and give a lot of energy, try to pick everybody up," Harrell said. "I feel like if I come out with a lot of energy, everybody on the floor is going to feed off of my energy."
In all, U of L had seven dunks, including one each by Smith and Blackshear.
It would have been eight, but Behanan clanked a first-half attempt off the rim, which brought comic relief in the midst of a rout. Behanan got a second chance and scored anyway.
"Thank God we got it back," Smith said. "It was really funny. I remember I did it last year. ... I got some 'talk' from my teammates, too. It was just super funny."
Good for a laugh on what was, for Louisville, a super fun night.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @markmaloneyhl. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com