Indianapolis, IN – Russ Smith tied his career high with 31 points in leading Louisville back to the Elite Eight, as the top-seeded Cardinals handled Oregon, 77-69, in the first Midwest Regional semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Louisville never trailed but had to fend off the 12th-seeded Ducks down the stretch to reach a regional final for the fourth time in the last six years, including last season's Final Four appearance.
Kevin Ware added 11 points while Gorgui Dieng chipped in 10 with nine rebounds for the Cardinals (32-5), who are riding a 13-game winning streak into Sunday's showdown against second-seeded Duke.
Rick Pitino, who was coaching in his 900th collegiate game, improved to 11-0 in Sweet 16 games, though this was the first victory by single digits. He will next meet Duke and Mike Krzyzewski in a regional final for the second time, the other coming in 1992 when Duke beat Pitino's Kentucky Wildcats on Christian Laettner's buzzer-beater.
The Blue Devils upended third-seeded Michigan State in Friday's nightcap.
Oregon (28-9) trailed by 18 at one point and fell short of a stunning comeback after pulling within six with five minutes to go. E.J. Singler's 15 points paced the Pac-12 Tournament champions, while Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson chipped in 12 apiece.
The Ducks upset Oklahoma State and Saint Louis to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007 and put a scare into the Cardinals when Dotson's bucket capped a 16-4 spurt that shrunk Oregon's deficit to 70-64.
But Louisville responded with the next six points to pull away for good. Ware banked in a tough runner, and Smith fed Chane Behanan for a baseline dunk before hitting two free throws to give the Big East tourney champs a comfortable 76-64 lead that held up over the final two-plus minutes.
"We've been a great defensive team -- not a good one, a great one -- all season. Tonight (Oregon's) quickness was so good, all it did was wear us out defensively. But we had Russ Smith and Kevin (Ware) really bail us out of some good situations that could have gone either way," Pitino said.
Louisville attacked the basket early and often, scoring eight of the game's first nine points off layups or dunks in jumping out a lead it never relinquished.
A 10-0 Cardinals run a little later extended the margin to double digits despite their play-making point guard, Peyton Siva, watching from the bench with two fouls. Smith took the reins during the surge as he started it with a 3-pointer and ended it with a layup off a turnover for a 20-7 edge with under 12 minutes left in the opening half.
The difference reached 16 a little later before an Artis-led 11-3 run cut Oregon's deficit in half, though Wayne Blackshear's 3-pointer in the final minute capped a first period that saw Louisville convert on 61 percent of its shots en route to a 45-31 cushion.
"(We) dug ourselves a pretty big hole and weren't able to come back," Oregon head coach Dana Altman said of the slow start.
Louisville got away from its inside dominance in the second half but still kept Oregon at bay even though its lead was again cut to eight with 12 1/2 minutes remaining.
The Cardinals answered with a 12-2 flurry, the last seven points coming in less than a minute as Luke Hancock's corner 3-pointer yielded a 66-48 advantage with nine minutes on the clock.
Smith, who was battling a cold, shot 9-of-16 from the field and 12-of-14 from the foul line ... Siva was limited to four points and three assists ... Arsalan Kazemi posted 11 points and 12 rebounds for Oregon ... The Cardinals will be making their 13th appearance in a regional championship ... Louisville is one win shy of matching the school record for wins in a season ... Louisville, which beat NC A&T and Colorado State to reach this round, lost to Kentucky in last year's Final Four.