BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Louisville got so revved up, Rick Pitino settled down.
No need for the Cardinals coach to shout, stomp his foot or stalk the sideline. He simply watched and enjoyed the show Sunday while his team played to near-perfection, romping past Oklahoma 78-48 in the second round of the East Regional.
“Offensively and defensively, we did a beautiful job,” he said. “You really can’t find a weakness in the way the guys played.”
Louisville harassed freshman star Blake Griffin with double teams down low, trapped the Sooners and ran every chance it got. The Cardinals neatly zipped passes in the paint—that bit of insider trading paid off with easy baskets all game.
Even plays Pitino didn’t draw up worked out.
Little-used Will Scott captured a loose ball, twisted his body and hit a heave from near half-court at the halftime buzzer for a 44-22 lead. While the Cardinals ran off hollering, Pitino walked away with a wry smile.
“It looked like it was going to be our night when that shot went in. Everything was going well for us. It was one of those nights,” Pitino said.
Said Scott: “Everybody has their 15 minutes of fame and I guess this is mine.”
“I wouldn’t really call that a shot,” he said. “I just tried to chuck it up and it happened to go in.”
Starting five players born outside Kentucky, the third-seeded Cardinals (26-8) reached the round of 16 for the first time since 2005. They will take on Tennessee, which beat Butler 76-71 in overtime, on Thursday night in Charlotte, N.C.
Reserve Earl Clark had 14 points and Jerry Smith 12 points for a team that relies on balanced scoring. Most everyone took part, and Louisville shot 59 percent for the game.
Gone were the worries that came because the Cardinals entered the NCAA tournament with two straight losses.
“I definitely think we’re playing our best ball right now,” Smith said. “We’re clicking right now, we’re really focusing in and we’re winning.”
David Godbold hit four 3s and finished with 15 points for sixth-seeded Oklahoma (23-12). Griffin looked like an average freshman, held without a shot for the opening 12 minutes and limited to eight points.
The 6-foot-10 Griffin said he’ll probably decide in three to four weeks about whether to enter the NBA draft. Sooners coach Jeff Capel is rumored to be a candidate for the South Carolina job.
“We just lost by 30, so I don’t really want to entertain questions about anything but our program,” Capel said. “And I just talked about our future, so I want to be here for a very long time.”
Louisville matched its biggest rout in the NCAA tournament, having trounced Kansas State by 30 in 1968. Oklahoma absorbed its most-lopsided loss in the tourney.
The Cardinals breezed in the second half, the only hiccup a hard pass from David Padgett that deflected off teammate Terrence Williams’ face and deflected out of bounds. No harm, and they shook their heads while a couple of Cardinals chuckled on the bench.
Even after Pitino returned to his roots with a barrage of 3s in an 18-point rout over Boise State in the first round, many fans figured this game would become a matchup of the big men—Griffin and Longar Longar against Padgett and a cluster of Cardinals.
Pitino indeed concentrated on stopping the Sooners in the low blocks. Godbold was left open and hit three early 3-pointers after wrecking Saint Joseph’s with five 3s and 25 points in the first-round win.
Pretty soon he was covered, too, as Pitino improved to 34-11 in the NCAA tournament. He won again with a hallmark of his: stopping the opponent’s top threat.
That, and constant pressure.
“We were just rushed and hurried all night,” Capel said. “Since we found out we were playing Louisville, we talked with our guys about playing poised and being strong. We didn’t do that.”
The Cardinals, meanwhile, scored from all over. Williams’ basket on a fast break made it 37-16 and forced the Sooners to call timeout, and Longar stared at his teammates while he walked to the bench.
“We played a good game against Boise. Tonight, we played a great game,” Pitino said.
This was the first meeting between the teams since 1988, when Harvey Grant and the Sooners beat Louisville 108-98 on this same court in the Southeast Regional semifinal.