LEXINGTON, Ky. — Pay attention, No. 1s. This is how it’s done.
Russ Smith scored 23 points and set a Louisville NCAA Tournament record with a career-high eight steals, and Peyton Siva had eight assists as the Cardinals demolished North Carolina A&T, 79-48, on Thursday night. Louisville finished with a season-high 20 steals as it forced the Aggies into 27 turnovers.
It was the 11th straight win for the Cardinals (30-5), and only their sixth victory ever at Rupp Arena. Of course, that’s because Louisville is usually facing Kentucky here, but the defending national champions are spectators these days after being bounced out of the first round of the NIT this week.
Rick Pitino and his Big East champions will play Colorado State on Saturday.
No 16th seed has ever beaten a No. 1 and, unlike that Southern-Gonzaga squeaker in Salt Lake City that ended shortly before the Aggies and Cardinals tipped off, this one was never even a contest.
Oh, the Cardinals let A&T (20-17) hang around for a few minutes, giving the handful of Aggies fans enough time to take photos of the scoreboard while the margin was still respectable. (OK, it was 6-4.)
Once Louisville stepped on the gas, however, this one was done.
The Cardinals silenced whatever questions there might have been about them deserving the No. 1 overall seed with a performance as impressive as it was unrelenting. Louisville shot better than 57 percent, and the only players who didn’t score were the benchwarmers who came in at the end of the game. The Cardinals scored on sweet finger rolls and rim-rattling dunks. They scored on layups and knocked down short jumpers. They hit from 3-point range and converted 3-point plays.
And where to even begin with those guards.
Siva and Smith are arguably the best tandem in the country and, if they continue playing like this, Louisville will have a good shot at improving on last year’s trip to the Final Four.
With the game already out of hand, Siva and Smith combined for a 13-0 run that put Louisville up, 67-37. Smith scored the first two baskets, Siva answered with two of his own, and then Smith drilled a three from the corner.
They finished it off with Siva scooping up a loose ball at halfcourt and dishing to Smith.