Louisville may not have played a perfect game Saturday, but it was close.
"We beat a great team tonight, and we probably can't play any better," Coach Rick Pitino said after his Cardinals dismantled Colorado State 82-56 in the third round of the NCAA Midwest Regional. "I think it was all due to the fact of the amount of respect that we had for them."
Pitino told his team that its full-court press would have to be the fatigue factor. And the Cards would have to crash the boards.
The Cardinals followed the script to a T and notched their 12th consecutive win, marching into the Sweet Sixteen for a second year in a row and 19th time overall.
Top-seeded Louisville (31-5) advances to the Sweet Sixteen at Indianapolis, where it will meet No. 12 seed Oregon next Friday.
Colorado State, a No. 8 seed, was bidding for its second Sweet Sixteen trip, the other coming in the 1968-69 season. Still, the Rams (26-9) shattered their school record for wins — 23 in 1988-89.
"We caught as well a coached team as I've ever played against, and I think that's saying something," CSU Coach Larry Eustachy said. "I don't want to put the pressure on Rick and his guys, but they're special."
The Rams came in with the nation's best rebounding advantage (12.1).
Louisville came in ranked second nationally in steals (10.7) and turnover margin (6.0).
When it was over, U of L had outrebounded the Rams 29-24 and won the turnover battle 20-9. Colorado State, averaging 10.8 turnovers, had never committed more than 16 in a game this season. The Cardinals had 11 steals, including five players with two each, to none for CSU.
"I just describe it as just total chaos," CSU's Greg Smith of U of L's pressure. "You know, some of those guys are just so fast. And you may think that you have an open lane ... or you think the pass is coming, and they close it down so quick."
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Russ Smith continued his stellar play in Kentucky's home, which some U of L fans are beginning to refer to as "Russ Arena" rather than Rupp Arena.
The 6-foot-1 junior finished with 27 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals.
"I just play hard no matter what venue I'm at, and some venues you just get lucky and shots go in," said Smith, who has 80 points in three games in Rupp (including one game vs. UK). "But I'm not going to give the credit to Rupp Arena."
U of L's Gorgui Dieng kept 6-11 counterpart Colton Iverson in check while totaling 12 points and three rebounds.
Iverson, averaging 14.4 and 9.0, was held to nine points and seven boards.
Peyton Siva had 10 points and five assists.
Montrezl Harrell and Kevin Ware came off the U of L bench to add 11 points and four points, respectively, and Ware matched Siva's five assists.
Smith led Colorado State with 14 points. Daniel Bejarano added 10 points and seven rebounds.
The Rams led 16-14 approaching the midpoint of the first half, but Louisville went on a 31-15 run to take a 45-31 lead at intermission.
Both teams were shooting 55.6 percent from the field at the half, but U of L had many more chances, going 18-for-32 to CSU's 10-for-18.
Harrell got the last two points on a buzzer-beater from the corner that bounded, bounded, bounded around the rim before dropping through.
"They were shooting a high percentage, but we were turning them over at the time," Siva said. "Russ caught fire again. He loves playing here. So we were just trying to feed him the ball and, for the most part, we did a great job of outrebounding them."
The Cards kept the pressure coming and opened the second half with a 12-5 spurt to lead by 21, 57-36. Colorado State had six turnovers in the first five minutes of the half.
"That last 10 minutes and the first five minutes of the second half is really what keyed us off," Siva said. "We just tried to build a big lead."
U of L continued to pile up points off turnovers (finishing with a 24-7 advantage), points in the paint (42-14) and second-chance points (19-8).
For the game, U of L shot 56.4 percent (31-55) to CSU's 47.5 (19-40).
Style points piled up down the stretch.
Moments after Dieng grabbed a rebound and dunked, Harrell finished off a Siva alley-oop pass with a vicious flush.
"We need to be pressing them, pressing them, and at the end of the game they will be tired," Dieng said. "... They were missing free throws. That shows that fatigue, and they're a great free-throw shooting team. So we just kept pushing it and never let up."
Harrell tied Wayne Blackshear for the team lead in rebounds, a modest four. However, five other Cards grabbed three each.
"We knew they was a great rebounding team. They kill everybody on the glass," Harrell said. "They killed Missouri ... We seen that; we just took it as a challenge and kept them off the glass."
Asked about his "probably can't play any better" comment, Pitino clarified: "We can play much better, but I said this was the best we have played so far at both ends of the floor. .. But we can definitely get better and improve."
Watch out, Oregon.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @markmaloneyhl. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com