Memphis, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - Russ Smith scored a career-high 42 points, including a school-record 27 in the first half, as fifth-ranked Louisville cruised past Houston, 94-65, on Friday in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
Smith shot 14-of-22 from the field, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range, en route to the third highest point total in Louisville history behind Bud Olsen's 44 in 1962 and Wes Unseld's 45 in 1967.
Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell each added 12 points for the second-seeded Cardinals (28-5), who will face the winner of Friday's other semifinal between Connecticut and Cincinnati in the first-ever AAC title game on Saturday.
"We're excited about it," Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said of his squad reaching a fourth consecutive conference tourney title tilt. "We talk about it all season long, about winning the regular season, winning the conference tournament and going on for a successful postseason"
TaShawn Thomas and Brandon Morris supplied 13 points apiece to pace the Cougars (17-16), who upended SMU in the quarterfinals.
J.J. Richardson's layup had Houston even at 16-all just under seven minutes into the game, but the Cougars went the next seven-plus minutes without a field goal, allowing Smith to lead Louisville on a decisive run.
The senior guard supplied 11 points in the ensuing 20-2 Louisville surge, which Harrell capped with an emphatic one-handed, alley-oop slam that gave the Cardinals a 36-18 cushion with six minutes left in the half.
Smith's final three points of the frame came from the stripe and pushed Louisville's lead to 43-23 with 3:14 left in the frame, but a late run from the Cougars got them within 47-32 at the break.
"They made it tough on us," Houston head coach James Dickey admitted. "Defensively they were a little more physical than we were. Once we got behind in double digits, we could never make a run at them."
The Cardinals held Houston at bay throughout the second half, never allowing the Cougars to get closer than 14 points.
Louisville's lead peaked at 30 on a Tim Henderson triple with 5:33 left and the Cardinals cruised the rest of the way.
The Cardinals have won 16 of 21 all-time encounters with Houston ... Louisville shot 50 percent from the floor, including 41.7 percent from long range ... Houston outrebounded Louisville, 43-38 ... Louisville turned the ball over just six times while forcing 16 turnovers from Houston ... The Cardinals outscored the Cougars 28-4 in fastbreak points.