By MIKE FITZPATRICK
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK — Never mind making shots. Villanova had a hard enough time hanging onto the ball against Louisville’s dynamic defense.
Russ Smith scored 28 points in a bittersweet homecoming, leading No. 4 Louisville into the Big East tournament semifinals with a 74-55 victory over the Wildcats on Thursday night only hours after the death of his esteemed high school coach.
The defending champion Cardinals (27-5) harassed Villanova into 25 turnovers that led to 27 points.
“We couldn’t get the ball over halfcourt,” coach Jay Wright said. “Their guards were in us, man. They did a heck of a job. That takes a lot of effort. They were very, very good.”
JayVaughn Pinkston had 21 points for the seventh-seeded Wildcats (20-13), confident they’ll receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament Sunday thanks to a string of high-profile wins against top-notch opponents. Mouphtaou Yarou added 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“I think we’ve got a good enough resume, but I haven’t followed it to know it well enough,” Wright said. “We’ll regroup on Saturday, and then we’ll see where we are.”
Despite the loss, the Wildcats do indeed appear to have solid NCAA credentials. They have three wins over top 5 teams this season, plus a victory over Marquette, which shared the Big East championship with Louisville and Georgetown.
One of those big wins was against then-No. 5 Louisville 73-64 on Jan. 22 to end a three-game slide and turn their season around. But this time, it was a totally different story.
“Their guards completely dominated the game,” Wright said. “That’s our weakness as a team. We don’t have that jet guard that can just break down a defense. ... I think our inexperience as a team definitely showed.”
Villanova made seven consecutive NCAA tournament appearances before missing out last season with only 13 wins. The Wildcats beat St. John’s 66-53 in their tournament opener Wednesday night to reach 20 wins for the eighth time in nine seasons.
Luke Hancock added 12 points off the bench for second-seeded Louisville, which has won eight straight — seven by at least 14 points. Peyton Siva, the tournament MVP last year, scored 10.
After the game, the Cardinals received a surprise visit from President Bill Clinton. A longtime basketball fan, he and coach Rick Pitino have been friendly for years, since Pitino was at Kentucky and introduced Clinton on campus.
“We got the chance to take a lot of pictures. It was a big treat for our guys,” Pitino said. “It was a lot of fun. ... He was just telling a lot of stories.”
Back home in New York, Smith received sad news early in the day about Jack Curran, the longtime coaching great at Archbishop Molloy High School, who died Thursday at 82. He was among the nation’s winningest prep coaches in basketball and baseball.
“It was really hard for me for about 45 minutes when I was on the bus crying and stuff,” Smith said. “It was almost heartbreaking to think about it.
“Today was definitely Coach Curran day for me, and it will be the rest of my life,” he added. “I’m going to miss him. He was everything to me, and to my mom, my family. He treated everyone with respect. He taught me a lot of things.”
Pitino huddled his players after their morning shootaround and informed them of Curran’s death, then led the team in a prayer.
“Russ had a heavy heart tonight,” said Pitino, who also called Curran a good friend. “I just told Russ we have to play this tournament and the NCAAs for Coach Curran.”
A first-team All-Big East selection, Smith was his usual frenetic self on the court, an energetic whirlwind of speed and steals and jump shots to go along with his maddening turnovers and wild drives to the basket. He hit 10 of 11 free throws and shot 7 of 12 from the field, including 4 for 6 from 3-point range.
The 6-foot junior guard went diving past photographers in pursuit of a loose ball less than 2 minutes in and crashed hard into the basket support when he was fouled on a fast-break dunk attempt. Smith hurt his ankle and came up limping, but stayed in the game.
He had seven points and one of Louisville’s eight steals in the first half as the feisty Cardinals forced Villanova into a whopping 18 turnovers before the break, including six in the first 3:31. The 25 total turnovers for the Wildcats, who were averaging 15.4 per game, matched a season high.
Pressing and trapping all over the court, Louisville tipped balls, forced tie-ups, got 5-second calls and created all kinds of general havoc for the flustered Wildcats, who wound up using several timeouts in tight spots just to prevent potential giveaways.
Even when Pinkston appeared to be free for a dunk after Villanova broke the press, Siva sprinted back and slapped the ball out of bounds. Pitino said the Cardinals had 38 deflections by halftime and 58 overall, an all-time high on the special chart his assistants keep.
“That’s never happened in my 80 years of coaching. So it was an incredible thing to witness. Very, very active,” Pitino said. “I think we were just very intense. We were really quick. We’re fast.”
Louisville went into the locker room with a 30-21 lead and extended the margin to 20 as Smith scored 11 points in the first 9½ minutes of the second half on a trio of 3s and a fast-break finger roll off his own steal at midcourt.
Louisville has most of its key players back from last year’s Final Four team, and Wright thinks that gives the Cardinals a big edge.
“This team could win a national championship,” he said. “You take their talent and then put on top of that the fact that they’ve been there, that experience is so valuable.”
NO. 5 GEORGETOWN 62
NEW YORK — Conference player of the year Otto Porter Jr. scored 18 points as top-seeded Georgetown advanced to the Big East tournament semifinals by pulling away from Cincinnati.
Porter made all 11 of his free throws to offset a 3-for-9 performance from the field.
Markel Starks had 14 points and reserve D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera added 13, including a tiebreaking 3-pointer that sparked a game-turning run for the Hoyas (25-5).
Georgetown, looking to land a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, squandered an early 16-point cushion and fell behind briefly in the second half before clamping down with its signature defense.
Cashmere Wright hit four 3-pointers and scored 14 points for ninth-seeded Cincinnati (22-11).
NO. 19 SYRACUSE 62
NO. 17 PITTSBURGH 59
NEW YORK — James Southerland had a second straight great effort from 3-point range and Michael Carter-Williams scored Syracuse’s last seven points as the 19th-ranked Orange held off Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.
Southerland had 20 points as he did in the second-round win over Seton Hall. The senior was 6 for 6 on 3s against Pittsburgh, a day after going 6 for 9 from beyond the arc against Seton Hall.
Carter-Williams had 11 points and seven assists for the fifth-seeded Orange (25-8), who will meet top-seeded Georgetown in the semifinals Friday night.
Lamar Patterson had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the fourth-seeded Panthers (24-8).
BIG TEN TOURNAMENT
NO. 6 MICHIGAN 83
PENN ST. 66
CHICAGO — Trey Burke scored 21 points to lead Michigan over Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, avenging a shocking loss to the Nittany Lions during the regular season.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas each added 15 points for the Wolverines (26-6), who will play fourth-seeded Wisconsin in the quarterfinals today. Freshman reserve Mitch McGary chipped in with 10 points and 11 rebounds, helping Michigan to a 28-15 advantage in second-chance points.
D.J. Newbill scored 20 points for Penn State (10-21), which faded after a fast start. Sasa Borovnjak scored 10 of his 15 points in the first half, and Ross Travis finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Nittany Lions.
BIG 12 TOURNAMENT
NO. 7 KANSAS 91
TEXAS TECH 63
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ben McLemore scored 24 points to lead Kansas to a rout of Texas Tech, setting up an intriguing date with Iowa State in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament.
The regular-season co-champion, Kansas was pushed by Texas Tech in their meeting in Lubbock earlier this season, but used a big run early in the second half to put this one away early.
The Jayhawks (27-5) shot 66 percent from the field (31 of 47), the best mark by any team in a Big 12 tournament game, advancing to face the Cyclones tonight. Kansas needed overtime to beat them in both of their regular-season games.
Dejan Kravic scored 20 points and Dusty Hannahs added 15 for the Red Raiders (11-20).
NO. 11 KANSAS ST. 66
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Rodney McGruder scored 24 points and sparked an 11-0 run in the second half, lifting Kansas State past Texas in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
McGruder also had a team-leading seven rebounds as the second-seeded Wildcats (26-6) whipped the Longhorns for the third time this year. Kansas State, which tied No. 7 Kansas for its first regular-season conference title since 1977, faces No. 14 Oklahoma State or Baylor in the semifinals today.
Julien Lewis scored 13 points and Jonathan Holmes had 10 for Texas (16-17).
Sheldon McClellan and Lewis hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead to 58-47 with 6:20 remaining, but that was as close as the Longhorns would get.
NO. 21 UCLA 80
ARIZONA ST. 75
LAS VEGAS — Shabazz Muhammad scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half, Travis Wear hit a jumper with 11 seconds left and UCLA rallied from a 15-point deficit to beat Arizona State in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament.
Muhammad scored 10 points during a 17-4 second-half run and Wear hit a long jumper to put the Bruins up 78-75 before Arizona State’s Jonathan Gilling missed a 3-point attempt from the corner.
Larry Drew II had 20 points and Wear finished with 15 to send the Bruins (24-8) into the semifinals against No. 18 Arizona tonight.
Jahii Carson had 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds for No. 9 seed Arizona State (21-12).
NO. 18 ARIZONA 79
LAS VEGAS — Nick Johnson scored 18 points and hit a contested shot with 34 seconds left, helping Arizona beat Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals.
Arizona (25-6) led by 14 in the second half, but had trouble shaking the Buffaloes (21-11).
Johnson hit his shot between three defenders to put the Wildcats up four and followed teammate Mark Lyons’ two free throws by swatting Askia Booker’s 3-point attempt into Colorado’s bench.
Lyons had 14 points and Solomon Hill 13 for Arizona, which faces No. 21 UCLA in the semifinals.
Spencer Dinwiddie scored 18 points and Andre Roberson added 15 points and 11 rebounds for fifth-seeded Colorado, which now must wait to see it if makes the NCAA tournament.
NO. 20 MEMPHIS 81
TULSA, Okla. — Chris Crawford scored 24 points and Adonis Thomas added 17 to lead Memphis past Tulane in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament.
The top-seeded Tigers (28-4) took control by scoring the final 14 points of the first half, with Crawford hitting a pair of 3-pointers and then soaring for a dunk to make it 44-27.
Memphis, seeking its seventh conference title in eight years, won its 22nd straight in the series between the teams. The Tigers will face either East Carolina or Tulsa in the semifinals.
Josh Davis had 21 points and 15 rebounds to lead eighth-seeded Tulane (19-14), which could never get closer than 10 in the second half.