It's not a new children's game. It's a list of the University of Louisville basketball opponents in the Midwest Regional Semifinals Friday night in Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Oregon Ducks were a rare opponent that matched the Cardinals' speed, athleticism and depth. But a sickness that swept through the team was just as tough an opponent.
The Cardinals were tougher. They spent their timeouts coughing and sputtering, but their offense never did, using one major run in each half to hold off Oregon 77-69.
Russ Smith was the sickest player on the team -- in a good way and bad. He continued his brilliant postseason with his grittiest game, finding holes in the Oregon defense and scoring time and again to repel Duck runs. He finished with 31 points, and even coughed his way through his postgame press session with reporters.
"I sort of had to prod our guys the entire night," said U of L coach Rick Pitino, who improved to 11-0 in the NCAA Tournament's round of 16. "Unfortunately, Russ has infected our entire team with a ridiculous cold, and all our guys are really sick. And it took a lot out of us because Oregon's so good. . . . Everybody's coughing and hacking at every timeout. We just had to get our guys through it, and hopefully we'll get better. The only problem is on every timeout Russ is hacking in our faces. Every 30 seconds, just like this. (Points to Smith coughing, next to him). So keep your distance or you'll all have pneumonia by the morning, like Gorgui and me."
Smith now is averaging 23.2 points per game in the postseason and 27 per game in the NCAA Tournament.
"I feel pretty bad," Smith said. "But we've worked very hard to get here. You have to do what you can do to help the team."
Get that kid some RobiRussin.
"Russ Smith is a talented young man," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "They've got a lot of talented players. When he got going, we didn't have an answer."
But it was another mildly ailing guard who kick-started the Cards.
The Cards had already jumped out to an 8-3 lead when Peyton Siva (also ill and on antibiotics) was called for a charge to pick up his second foul. Pitino went to Kevin Ware. He turned in the best performance of his college career, scoring a career-high 11 points and running the team during long stretches in each half.
Ware logged more minutes (25) than Siva (19) and made 5 of 7 shots.
The Cards also got strong play from everyone on the interior. Gorgui Dieng had 10 points and nine rebounds, while Montrezl Harrell grabbed seven rebounds in 14 minutes.
The Cards led by as many as 16 in the first half and led by 14 at the break. Altman, however, kept his team cool the entire game. With unfailingly positive input from the bench, he kept his team in the game. After a 7-0 spurt over 53 seconds put U of L up 66-48 with 9:02 left, the Ducks answered with seven quick points of their own in a 1:15 span.
They pulled within 6 with 5:12 left, and for the first time this postseason, the Cards looked like they weren't the team with more bounce entering the stretch.
But they had plenty. Ware drove the lane and skied for a layup. Wayne Blackshear gathered a steal and Chane Behanan dunked. Then Russ Smith got to the line and made two free throws, and the lead was back at 12.
"I tried to tell our guys. 'Guys, we don't have it tonight, it's obvious. We're winning with offense, and that's great, but we've got to start digging in and getting stops,'" Pitino said. "We did at the end. We had a good run and they immediately came back and made big plays. But Kevin gave us a big lift. Every time we needed a bucket, he got it for us. Gorgui did a great job. We've been a great defensive team ‑‑ not a good one, a great one ‑‑ all season. Tonight their quickness was so good, all it did was wear us out defensively. But we had Russ Smith and Kevin really bailed us out of some good situations that could have gone either way. We never let them come back, because we kept attacking offense. The first time ‑‑ our offense has really grown in the last few weeks. We're shooting an amazing percentage, which we didn't do all season. That's why we're in the Elite Eight."
In a game billed as a battle between two full-court presses, neither was much of a factor.
Pitino used Gorgui Dieng to break Oregon's pressure and essentially neutralized it. Oregon was not bothered by U of L's pressure. It committed only 12 turnovers, second-fewest for a Cardinal opponent all season.
The Cards have shown on multiple occasions, they don't have to force turnovers to win. Now the challenge for Pitino and his training staff is to have them healthy enough to be ready to go to play for a second straight Final Four trip, against the Duke Blue Devils, on Sunday.
Ware said illness would not be a factor.
"It's a common cold," Ware said. "This is the Elite Eight. It will not be a problem."
The Cards will just take some RobiRussin, and sleep on it.
Wednesday, March 5 2014 8:53 AM EST2014-03-05 13:53:25 GMT
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