ORLANDO, FLORIDA – It’s not always pretty with Louisville. And sometimes, it’s ugly by design.
The defending national champions shrugged off poor shooting, 19 turnovers and a subpar performance by star Russ Smith and still won handily Saturday to get back to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the third straight year.
“Everything’s not going to be sweet or pretty,” Smith said after a 66-51 victory over Saint Louis. “We’re just getting the job done.”
Luke Hancock scored 21 points and the battled-tested Cardinals (31-5) won with defense.
Saint Louis (27-7) missed all 15 of its 3-point shots and turned the ball over 18 times in losing in the third round for the third consecutive year.
“These guys have had a lot of wins under their belt, a lot of great tournament experiences,” said coach Rick Pitino, who huddled with the Cardinals after watching Florida wear down Pittsburgh in Orlando earlier in the day.
The fourth-seeded Cardinals, who are looking for a third straight trip to the Final Four, move on the Midwest Regional semifinals in Indianapolis against either No. 1 seed Wichita State or Kentucky.
“Obvious, they’ve got a chance to repeat,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said of Louisville’s chances of winning it all again.
Dwayne Evans led Saint Louis, which has never been to the Sweet 16, with 16 points. Atlantic 10 player of the year Jordair Jett finished with 15.
Chris Jones made a couple of huge shots and scored 11 points for Louisville. Montrezl Harrell put a punctuation mark on the victory with a dunk that gave him 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Pitino improved to 50-16 in the NCAA tournament, including a 16-0 mark in the round of 16. The Cardinals are in the regional semifinals for the 20th time, matching Kansas and trailing only North Carolina (25), Kentucky (24) and Duke (23).
Smith struggled shooting the ball for the second straight game, missing his first four attempts and going scoreless until his 3-pointer put the Cardinals up 25-14 in the final minute of the opening half.
Saint Louis starts five seniors, and their experience and cohesion showed in weathering a slow start and methodically working its way back into the game after falling down by 11. The Billikens began the second half with a 13-2 run, holding Louisville without a field goal for nearly 7 minutes to take a 29-27 lead.
But Smith hit a floater in the lane, then made two free throws to restore order for the Cardinals, who limited Saint Louis to 39.6 percent shooting.
Louisville rebuilt its lead to 13 over the next 9 minutes, with Hancock making two 3-pointers and Smith finishing a 23-8 surge with a driving layup that put his team up 50-37.
Michigan 79, Texas 65
In Milwaukee, Nik Stauskas had 17 points and eight assists to lead second-seeded Michigan to the round of 16 for the second straight year by beating No. 7 Texas.
Florida 61, Pittsburgh 45
In Orlando, Scottie Wilbekin scored 21 points and top-seeded Florida beat No. 9 Pittsburgh.
Dayton 55, Syracuse 53
In Buffalo, New York, Dyshawn Pierre scored 14 points and Jordan Sibert, held scoreless in the first half, hit a key 3-pointer with 47.7 seconds left as 11th-seeded Dayton stunned No. 3 Syracuse to earn a spot in the Sweet 16 for the first time in three decades.
Michigan State 80, Harvard 73
In Spokane, Washington, Branden Dawson scored a career-high 26 points to help fourth-seeded Michigan State fend off a wild Harvard rally.
UConn 77, Villanova 65
In Buffalo, Shabazz Napier scored 25 points to lead No. 7 Connecticut to an upset over second-seeded Villanova.
Wisconsin 85, Oregon 77
In Milwaukee, Ben Brust hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:07 left and second-seeded Wisconsin overcame No. 7 Oregon.
SDSU 63, NDSU 44
In Spokane, Xavier Thames scored 30 points and San Diego State reached the round of 16 for the second time in school history.