New York, NY – The reigning Big East Tournament champions began their title defense in typical fashion Thursday, as No. 4 Louisville used its stout defensive prowess to shut down Villanova, 74-55, in quarterfinal action at Madison Square Garden.
The Cardinals (27-5) earned a share of the Big East regular season title based largely on its ability to wreak havoc on the defensive side of the ball. They did just that against the Wildcats, forcing 25 turnovers and holding their opponent to 39 percent shooting.
"We were just very intense. We were really quick," Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said of his defense. "We keep a chart that, if we get 35 to 40 deflections and we don't give up an inordinate amount of threes, we're going to win a number of games. ... We had 58 tonight."
Russ Smith paced the offense with 28 points behind four 3-pointers, while Luke Hancock and Peyton Siva added 12 and 10 points, respectively, for second- seeded Louisville, which next plays Notre Dame in a rematch of last month's five-overtime thriller won by the Fighting Irish.
Villanova, one of the many teams on the proverbial NCAA Tournament bubble, won the only regular season meeting between the teams, but the seventh-seeded Wildcats (20-13) were unable to duplicate the balanced attack they had in Wednesday's win over St. John's.
JayVaughn Pinkston scored 21 points, and Mouphtaou Yarou finished with 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds in the loss.
"The game was allowed to be played very physical," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. "We just did not respond to the physical play. That's what happens, you turn the ball over like that."
It was a hectic first three minutes of play with each team committing five turnovers. While the Cardinals cleaned up most of their mistakes, Villanova continued its sloppy play.
The Wildcats turned it over on five straight trips during an early 9-0 run that ended in a Hancock layup for 15-6 Louisville lead. The margin was cut to three late in the first half before Siva and Smith connected on 3-pointers during an eight-point surge, which staked the Cardinals to a 30-19 advantage with under two minutes remaining.
Louisville forced 18 turnovers in the first 20 minutes -- essentially its season average for an entire game in the regular season -- and went into the break with a 30-21 cushion.
Villanova limited its turnovers after the break, but still couldn't solve the Cardinals' defense, missing eight straight shots at one point -- five on one possession alone -- and fell behind, 46-28 following a Smith 3-pointer with under 13 minutes to play.
The closest the margin got from there was a dozen as Louisville cruised to its eighth straight victory.
Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, was in attendance ... Louisville finished with 19 turnovers, but shot a solid 44 percent from the field and 10-of-24 from behind the arc ... Villanova star freshman Ryan Arcidiacono netted three points on 1-of-8 shooting. He came in averaging over 12 points per game ... The Wildcats only connected on 2-of-12 shots from behind the arc in their matching their season low scoring output.