But one hitter, or shooter, carried the day for these two storied programs to play for a second time this season. Russ Smith’s 31 powered Louisville past Oregon 77-69, sending the Cardinals to the Elite 8 for the third time in five seasons. Seth Curry’s 29, including six three-pointers, lifted Duke over Michigan State 71-61. The Blue Devils will play in the final eight for the first time since 2010, when they won the national title at Lucas Oil Stadium.
SMITH SENSATIONAL, START STELLAR FOR CARDS
Russ Smith has been on the fringe of the discussion for national player of the year. Whatever faint hopes Smith had for that likely vanished given Trey Burke’s second half and overtime work in Michigan’s comeback victory against Kansas. But there’s no doubt who the MVP for Louisville has been this season, and that was especially true on Friday night.
Smith was relentless in attacking the rim. That paid off in both buckets and fouls drawn, as Smith would finish 12 of 14 from the stripe in the game. While he easily led his club in scoring, Smith wasn’t alone in his aggression.
Louisville raced out to a 24-8 lead in the game’s opening nine minutes, and that was in large part to playing at a breakneck speed. It was an intensity that Oregon didn’t match until the midway point of the first half. By that time, it was too late. The Cards had built and insurmountable lead. Oregon would never get closer than six the rest of the way.
For the second straight regional held at Lucas Oil, red was the dominant color inside the building, and C-A-R-D-S was the dominant chant. Of the 35,520 in attendance, a fair estimate would be that 25k of that total were in full throat in support of their Cardinals. And if Louisville can have a start like that on Sunday afternoon, then those same fans will be in a full-blown state of delirium.
CURRY CONTINUING THE FAMILY NCAA TOURNAMENT TRADITION
Steph Curry has certainly accomplished enough in his four-year NBA career for those numbers to stand on their own. However for most casual fans, the first thing about Curry that comes to mind would be leading Davidson within a whisker of the Final Four in 2008, averaging 32 points per game in the tournament.
Now younger brother Seth is leaving a lasting legacy of his own.
After one year at Liberty, Curry is completing his third and senior season at Duke. His overall numbers won’t match those of his older brother. There’s simply too many other great players to share the basketball with in playing for Mike Krrzyzewski. But now he’ll make it as far in the tournament as Steph did, playing in his first Elite 8.
Duke was an upset victim last year, falling to Lehigh in its opening game. The year prior, Arizona stopped the Blue Devils season in the Sweet 16. When Duke won it all here three years ago, Curry was watching from the bench, sitting out his transfer season.
He’s more than along for the ride. In fact, in the opening 25 minutes, he carried his teammates. Curry scored the 23 of the first 41 points in the win, including an outburst of a trio of treys in the first three minutes of the second half.
As the game wore on, Duke got more of a contribution from Miles Plumlee and Rasheed Sulaimon. Sulaimon would equal Ross Smith’s numbers from the line in the opener, connecting on 12 of 14. It was Duke’s defense, or perhaps Michigan State’s lack of offense that pushed the Blue Devils across the finish line. The Spartans made just one field goal over a stretch of 14 minutes in the second half.
PLENTY OF HISTORY, BOTH IMMEDIATE AND DISTANT FOR SUNDAY’S SHOWDOWN
These two battled in the Bahamas over the Thanksgiving holiday, with Duke winning 76-71. There was one huge piece of the puzzle missing in that game for Louisville, as Gorgui Dieng did not play that day due to a broken left wrist. The difference in the game came at the line, as Duke went 23 of 27 from the stripe. Louisville attempted 14 shots, making nine.
Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski have squared off numerous times over the years. Their most famous head-to-head battle occurred in a regional final. It was 21 years ago that Pitino’s group of “Unforgettables” battled Duke in one of the best college basketball games ever played. I’ll guarantee you’ve seen the final shot from that game a minimum of 100 times in this tournament already.
Finally, these two schools competed for the 1986 national championship at Reunion Arena in Dallas. Freshman sensation Pervis Ellison led Louisville to its second national title in a 72-69 victory. For Duke, it was the first of seven appearances in the Final Four in nine seasons. That game for Louisville would mark its last trip to the Final Four for 19 years, and the Cards have yet to make an appearance in the final game since that championship 27 years ago.