for this game

Early burst, defense help Louisville dispatch Tennessee

Mar 28, 2008 - 6:37 AM
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Ticker) -- After an impressive start, Louisville had the defensive schemes to continue Tennessee's struggles in the "Sweet 16."

Earl Clark scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as third-seeded Louisville toppled No. 2 Tennessee, 79-60, in the semifinals of the East Regional on Thursday.

Taking control of the contest with an early 18-1 run, the Cardinals (27-8) advanced to a regional final for the second time in four years. They will face top-seeded North Carolina on Saturday.

Louisville also was outstanding on the defensive end, frustrating Tennessee into its second-lowest scoring output of the season. The Volunteers only had fewer points in a 47-45 win at Louisiana State on February 5.

"The last three games, our offense and defense have all been clicking," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "There have been other games where our offense has clicked and our defense has clicked. Our defense has stayed constant most of the year, and this is a team that we have tremendous respect for. Guys prepared hard for a week."

"We struggled all night long, and Louisville deserves a great deal of credit for that," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "I've been coaching a long time, and never has the tempo of the game been dictated so much by the opponent."

The Volunteers once again came up short in a regional semifinal, dropping to 0-5 all-time and getting eliminated there for the second straight year.

"I told the guys that tonight's game doesn't take much away from the finest season in the history of Tennessee basketball," Pearl said. "No team has accomplished the things that these guys accomplished this year, and I'm awfully proud of them."

Trailing, 7-6, less than three minutes into the game, Louisville got eight points - including two 3-pointers - from Jerry Smith during a commanding burst that gave it a 24-8 lead with 8:57 remaining before halftime.

The Volunteers attempted to rally but could not come all the way back due to their haphazard play. They finished 34 percent (19-of-56) from the field, including 5-of-20 on 3-pointers.

"Their length bothered us on the perimeter, getting the ball to the post, as well as under the basket," Pearl said. "The size bothered us when we got close to the basket. We probably didn't drive it as well as we could have, but that's what zones do."

The Cardinals really could have blown open the contest in the opening half but had to settle for a 37-30 lead after committing 14 turnovers.

Heading back to the locker room, Clark was visibly upset about his turnover issues in the opening 20 minutes.

"It wasn't so much - I was upset with myself, I turned the ball over a lot," Clark said. "I was frustrated, but I wasn't really mad at coach."

Clark turned around his play after the break, when he scored 13 of his points.

Able to chip away at its deficit due to Louisville's turnover issues, Tennessee continued a charge after the break, closing within 37-36 on a layup by JaJuan Smith with 16:51 remaining.

"Yes, we felt good," Vols forward Tyler Smith said. "We were able to get the score down, but they were able to pull away."

That would be the closest the Volunteers would get, as the Cardinals outhustled Tennessee on the boards and in the open court. Louisville pulled ahead, 49-39, with 13:24 left after a jumper by Clark capped a 12-3 run.

The Vols were unable to make another run, even though leading scorer Chris Lofton began to heat up.

Limited to just two points in the first half on a pair of free throws, Lofton picked up his first basket with 12:08 on a layup in transition on which he was fouled. He completed a three-point play to cut Tennessee's deficit to 52-44.

The career leader in the Southeastern Conference in 3-pointers made, Lofton did not get his first basket from the arc until there was 8:24 left, making it 54-47.

The senior had missed his first seven attempts from long range and finished 2-of-11 from the arc en route to 15 points.

"It was great to be here for the last four years," Lofton said. "I wish we could have gone farther, but I guess it's the way it goes sometimes."

One reason for Lofton's struggles from deep was the defense of the 6-8 Clark, who even blocked on the star guard's 3-point attempts.

"I just tried to blitz the screen and, every time he's on my side, get up and jam him," Clark said. "I try to make it a tough shot for him."

JaJuan Smith scored 12 points and Tyler Smith added 11 for Tennessee, which has lost 12 of its last 13 meetings with Louisville. Overall, the Cardinals hold a 12-7 advantage.