Paradise Island, Bahamas – Russ Smith scored a game-high 16 points as No. 2 Louisville held off Northern Iowa, 51-46, at the Battle 4 Atlantis at Imperial Arena.
Smith added five rebounds, five assists and four steals, while Gorgui Dieng finished with six points and nine boards for the Cardinals (4-0), who will face No. 13 Missouri in the semifinals on Friday.
Marc Sonnen paced Northern Iowa (3-1) with 11 points and Jake Koch netted 10 in the Panthers' first loss of the season.
After Anthony James opened the second half with a jumper, Louisville reeled off 14 unanswered points to jump out to a seemingly comfortable 40-22 advantage.
Northern Iowa was held without a basket for over 10 minutes during that span until Nate Buss snapped the drought with a little over nine minutes remaining in the game, sparking an 20-4 run as Louisville's offense went cold to make it a 44-42 contest with 3:25 left on Deon Mitchell's three-point play.
It remained a one-possession game from there until James missed a game-tying 3-pointer with about a minute left and Smith's three-point play two possessions later put the Cardinals on top, 51-46, with six seconds to go.
The Panthers failed to get off a shot on their ensuing possession as Koch's turnover sealed the victory for Louisville.
It was a one-possession game over the first four-plus minutes of action until Smith netted six straight points in an 8-0 spurt to give Louisville a 13-6 lead.
The Panthers answered with an 11-2 run to retake a 17-15 edge, but the Cardinals closed out the first half with an 11-3 push to take a 26-20 lead into the break.
Louisville's previous three wins had all come by at least 26 points ... It was the first-ever meeting between the teams ... James finished with nine points ... Louisville shot just 30.6 percent from the floor, while Northern Iowa connected on 34.8 percent of its shots ... The Cardinals held a 46-28 advantage on the glass.