Louisville's suffocating defense has coach Rick Pitino a step away from a sixth trip to the Final Four.
Earl Clark scored 17 points and had 12 rebounds, and Pitino's mix of defenses made life miserable for Tennessee in a 79-60 victory Thursday night to put the third-seeded Cardinals in the East Regional final.
Pitino, who has won an NCAA title, coached in two championship games and taken three schools to the Final Four, has Louisville playing its best basketball of the season when it counts most. After Louisville's two blowout wins last weekend, Pitino's signature zone and pressure limited the high-scoring Volunteers to 34-percent shooting. The veteran coach improved to 8-0 in regional semifinals and secured a date with top-seed North Carolina on Saturday night.
Terrence Williams and Andre McGee each added 13 points and David Padgett had 10 points and eight rebounds for Louisville (27-8), which nearly blew all of a 16-point first half lead, only to take control midway through the second half and keep alive its hopes for a second Final Four berth in four years.
Chris Lofton scored 15 points for No. 2 seed Tennessee, but was 3-for-15 in his final game with the Volunteers (31-5), who have never advanced beyond the round of 16.
After a horrible start, Tennessee got within 37-36 early in the second half. But then the springy Clark, who has come on in the NCAA tournament, had a driving layup, hit a baseline jumper and converted a three-point play in a 13-5 run.
Louisville's defense didn't allow Tennessee to get back in it again, and the Cardinals hit all nine free throws over the final 5 minutes to keep Tennessee at bay.
JaJuan Smith added 12 point and Tyler Smith had 11, but the Volunteers continued their NCAA tournament shooting slump.
Tennessee hit only 5 of 20 3-pointers, finishing 11-for-58 in three games. It was another disappointing end for coach Bruce Pearl, who in his third season hasn't been able to get Tennessee into the round of eight.
The Volunteers, who were outrebounded 43-28, dropped to 0-5 in regional semifinals.
Things couldn't have started much worse for the Volunteers. Forward Wayne Chism picked up two fouls in the first 2 minutes and Louisville's extended 2-3 zone bottled up Lofton, their leading scorer.
When the Cardinals weren't turning it over, they were scoring off easy baskets in transition. Pearl had called two timeouts by the time Louisville took a 24-8 with 8:58 left.
Pearl put Chism back in the game, and he helped Tennessee establish an inside presence with two baskets in the paint as the Volunteers slowly fought back. Louisville, which started 8-of-13 from the field, suddenly went cold, missing 15 of its next 19 shots.
Tennessee got within seven at halftime, then cut the deficit to one early in the second half despite getting little from Lofton.
Lofton, who came in third in NCAA history with 429 3-pointers, missed his first seven attempts. His first make came with 8:21 left, but it came after Clark's surge.
Lofton was 2-for-11 from 3-point range, and could only watch Louisville celebrate in the final minute from the bench.
It left the Cardinals looking ahead to Saturday's game against North Carolina, the toughest test yet for its vaunted defense. The Tar Heels will also be playing a virtual home game just over two hours from its Chapel Hill campus.
The teams were set up to meet in an early season tournament in Las Vegas, but the Cardinals were upset by Brigham Young.
This time Pitino and the Cardinals, who have won 12 of 14, are primed to take on the Tar Heels.
Story Courtesy: AP Wire Reports & UT Sports Information
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