Top 25 basketball: No. 3 Louisville wins opener with a late 'boom'
Louisville, Ky. • The emotion of raising a national championship banner combined with replacing two key players from the team that won the title had No. 3 Louisville in a close game for 33 minutes against the College of Charleston on Saturday.
Then came the boom.
The Cardinals outscored Charleston 22-3 over the final 6:41 to pull away to a 70-48 victory in the first game of their national championship defense.
"Our quality, that 'boom' quality that we had last year came out again in the second half because we played like starving dogs," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski saw it when Louisville shook off the grief of losing teammate Kevin Ware to a broken leg and ripped off a 13-2 second-half run that pushed the Cardinals to the Final Four.
"I thought we had a chance there, and then, boom," Krzyzewski said after the Midwest Regional final. "That's what they do to teams."
Louisville pulled off similar comebacks against Wichita State and Michigan to earn the school's third national title in April. They unveiled the championship banner for those efforts before Saturday's game but were shaky at the start following the ceremony that Pitino wrapped up.
"We are very much like the Green Bay Packers. We are owned by our fans," he said, choked up in the moment.
Preseason All-America Russ Smith led Louisville with 21 points and five assists. He said while the pregame pageantry was "special" it "threw everything out of rhythm."
"We just had to kind of kick the rust off," Smith said. "I'm kind of happy we got back into playing the way we know how to play."
That style pressure on defense and attacking the rim on offense was on display as Louisville's spurt put the Cougars away late.
"It kind of just felt like last year when we kind of just boomed people," said Stephan Van Treese, a fifth-year senior. "We just kept it going. It was awesome; the crowd really got into it."
• No. 3 Louisville 70, College of Charleston 48
• No. 11 Ohio State 89, Morgan State 50
• No. 15 Gonzaga 100, Bryant 76
• No. 16 Wichita State 93, Emporia State 50
• No. 22 UCLA 72,Drexel 67 (late Friday)
• No. 23 New Mexico 88, Alabama A&M 52