Louisville's defense suffocates Marquette
Smith scored 12 points and thwarted a second-half run as the Cardinals locked up the Golden Eagles again, winning 71-57 Monday night to snap No. 16 Marquette’s 14-game home winning streak.
Smith, from the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa, made the winning 3-pointer in Louisville’s two-point victory last year at Marquette.
“We would rather not get to the last shot,” said Smith, whose cheering section behind the bench included his parents, grandmother, uncle and a few friends. “It was great that we were able to come away with a victory, especially on the road. I’m really happy with the way everything went.”
Marquette still hasn’t figured out Louisville’s defense.
The Golden Eagles (16-5, 6-4 Big East) shot 32 percent from the field. In their previous matchup last month, Louisville dominated 71-51 in Freedom Hall by holding Marquette to 30.4 percent shooting.
“It’s knowing what they like to do,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “We’ve been playing against each other so long, we run the same stuff. We know each other very well. We have a better inside attack than they do.”
Louisville (17-6, 7-3) didn’t have nearly as tough a time as last season, looking well rested after the easiest win in its short Big East history, 87-50 over Rutgers on Saturday.
The Cardinals jumped all over their former Conference USA rival from the start thanks to Edgar Sosa, who scored 14 of his 18 points in the first half.
“I didn’t plan on coming out and scoring like that,” Sosa said. “This is a team that has kind of become our rival. We take a lot of these games personal. We want to win every time we play Marquette.”
Marquette came in with a three-game winning streak that including its first conference road win of the season at Cincinnati on Saturday. But it trailed by nine early and never made a run, stifled by its inability to make shots.
After Marquette scored twice early to start the second half, Smith answered, knocking down back-to-back threes to make it 40-28. He hollered at his teammates after sinking the second shot to fire them up.
“I was just trying get the team pumped up,” Smith said. “The shots were in the stride of the game and just felt good. It was a big boost to the team.”
Pitino said Smith has been one of his best players since coming to Louisville last year.
“He had an excellent freshman year and he’s having an outstanding sophomore season. Probably consistently from start to finish the best on the team,” Pitino said. “He’s a great guy. He’s a very good athlete.”
After Smith’s shots, Lazar Hayward, leading Marquette with 13.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, picked up his fourth foul with 13:58 to play and took a seat as the Golden Eagles never cut the lead back to single digits.
Hayward finished with 2-of-10 from the field with five points and five rebounds. Wesley Matthews had 15 points, and Jerel McNeal finished with 11.
“We didn’t make shots, we didn’t come out with that urgency that we needed to start the game off and Louisville is a good team,” Matthews said. “They’re going to make you pay if you don’t play how you’re supposed to, and that’s what happened.”
The Cardinals have dominated the series recently, winning six of the last seven matchups, including the last three in Milwaukee, but Pitino joked about his long-term success in the Bradley Center.
“You obviously didn’t follow the Celtics, did you?” he quipped before adding, “We were hoping that we’d have the ball down one, last second shot again.”
No need. The Cardinals played well offensively, too, shooting 51.1 percent.
“What we have to do is grow up in a hurry. If you’re not making shots, you still have to go back and play solid defense,” Marquette coach Tom Crean said. “When it comes to talking defensively, we hit an all-time low. When you’re playing good basketball teams, everyone has to be locked in.”
Marquette point guard Dominic James came off the bench against the Cardinals after starting 85 consecutive games. He finished with eight points and has failed to score in double digits in five of the last six games as he continues to struggle to recover from a sprained right wrist after a hard foul on Jan. 8 against Seton Hall.
Crean said James had the flu and needed four or five IVs earlier in the day.
“Very sick,” Crean said. “He came and he tried. He keeps working. He’s been dealing with the injury, he’s dealing with being sick right now. No question he wasn’t feeling well. But he came out for his team. We just didn’t do enough.”