Louisville Moves Past Villanova Into Big East Semi-Finals

Published on: 14th March, 2013

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rick pitino
Louisville Moves Past Villanova Into Big East Semi-Finals  | read this item

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New York — If there ever was a coach who epitomized what a kid from the New York is all about, it is Rick Pitino, the Louisville University head basketball coach. Even now, at age 60, having coached for 39-years,  and in the state of Kentucky for 20 of those years at both Kentucky and its intra-state arch rival, Louisville, Pitino still hasn’t lost his New Yawk accent all these years later.

Tonight, in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, smack in the middle of Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Pitino and one of his star players, Russ Smith both carried heavy hearts into their game with Villanova because of the death earlier in the day of legendary NYC high school basketball coach, Jack Curran.

The sadness didn’t prevent Louisville from showing off astounding quickness on the defensive end and exceptional shooting as they bludgeoned an overmatched Villanova, 74-55 behind Smith’s 28 points.

Curran had coached generations of baseball and basketball players for 55 years at Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, winning more than 2,600 games, certainly among the most victories that any scholastic coach anywhere has compiled, died late Wednesday or early Thursday at his home in Rye, N.Y. He was 82.

Smith, a Queens kid who played for Curran at Molloy, and the defending champion Cardinals (27-5) harassed Villanova into 25 turnovers and advanced to play Notre Dame or Marquette in the late game Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

Smith had seven points and one of Louisville’s eight steals in the first half as the feisty Cardinals forced Villanova into a whopping 18 turnovers before the break, including six in the first 3:31. The 25 total turnovers for the Wildcats, who were averaging 15.4 per game, matched a season high.Pressing and trapping all over the court, they tipped balls, forced tie-ups, got 5-second calls and created all kinds of general havoc for the flustered Wildcats, who wound up using several timeouts in tight spots just to prevent potential giveaways.

Louisville looks like one of the best teams in the country coming down the stretch of this season, having won eight in a row in convincing, mostly double-digit fashion. In fact, the Cardinals’ only loss in their final 11 outings came in five overtimes at nemesis Notre Dame on Feb. 9.

Villanova beat St. John’s 66-53 in its tournament opener Wednesday night to reach 20 wins for the eighth time in nine seasons.

Despite the loss Thursday, the Wildcats appear to have solid NCAA tournament 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. One of those big wins was against then-No. 5 Louisville 73-64 on Jan. 22 to end a three-game slide and turn their season around.

Villanova made seven consecutive NCAA tournament appearances before missing out last season with only 13 wins.The Cardinals, who came in forcing 18.5 turnovers per game, have won six straight and eight of nine at Madison Square Garden.

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