NEW YORK (WDRB) -- It wasn't your typical University of Louisville offense. The Cards opened Big East Tournament play by raining 10 three-pointers down on Villanova to avenge a regular-season loss with a 74-55 victory in Madison Square Garden, punctuated by a post-game locker room visit from former president Bill Clinton.
The Cards went 10 of 24 from three-point range and only 13 of 38 from two-point range, hardly the norm for them. But they won the game with their typical defense, forcing 25 Villanova turnovers, including 18 in the first half. Pitino said his team had an all-time high in deflections since he's been keeping the stat: 58.
The Wildcats, who beat the Cardinals in Philadelphia in January, never got closer than 12 in the second half.
"Our guys had a big treat, President Clinton came back to say hello and they all got to take pictures," U of L coach Rick Pitino said.
It was an emotional night for U of L junior Russ Smith. Jack Curran, his high school coach at Archbishop Molloy in Queens, died earlier in the day. Smith was not himself early in the game, arguing with refs and clearly pressing. Pitino sat him for an extended stretch at one point. When Smith returned, Villanova couldn't handle him. Smith finished with 28 points in the Garden.
"I found out this morning," Smith said. "I was on the bus crying for about 45 minutes. . . . It's almost hard to even think about. . . . Today was definitely Coach Curran's day for me."
U of L also got 12 points from Luke Hancock and 10 from Peyton Siva and, on an off night from Gorgui Dieng (3 of 9 shooting) still walked away with the easy win by holding Villanova to 38.9 percent shooting from the field, 16.7 percent (2 for 12) from three-point range.
"Russ had a heavy heart tonight," Pitino said. "Coach Curran was a great friend of mine. I just told him to play this tournament and the next one for him."
After making just 12 of 24 free throws in their loss to Villanova, the Cards made 18 of 23.
"We didn't shoot free throws last time and didn't cause enough havoc," Pitino said. "And tonight we did."