PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Missouri coach Frank Haith didn’t need a stat sheet to see what cost his team a chance at beating the No. 2 team in the country.
He had 23 reasons to know why the 13th-ranked Tigers lost 84-61 to Louisville on Friday night in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
“We shot well but it was the turnovers,” he said. “We just made some careless plays. We have to find a way to make plays. Guys were trying to make home run plays instead of the easy play. That’s not who we are. Bonehead plays gives teams energy. Lots of turnovers were us forcing plays.”
Luke Hancock scored 19 points and Russ Smith had 18 points and six steals for Louisville, which had a rougher-than-expected opening-round game, a 51-46 victory over Northern Iowa.
The Cardinals (5-0) will face No. 5 Duke in Saturday night’s championship game. The Blue Devils beat VCU 67-58.
“We consider it a big treat to play them for a championship,” Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said. “We feel we have got the guys to play in that championship and win.”
Louisville was back to being one of the better defensive teams in the nation against the Tigers, forcing the 23 turnovers that the Cardinals turned into 31 points. Missouri’s Phil Pressey, considered one of the better point guards in the country, had eight turnovers.
“Our guys played a heck of a game tonight,” Pitino said. “We had five guys in double figures. We had serious foul trouble and our bench gave us a big lift. That was exciting.”
The Cardinals played zone the entire game. Pitino said it was because they didn’t have enough time to put in a plan to play man-too-man.
“We were expecting that,” Pressey said of the zone. “We just didn’t execute. That’s what their defense does, force turnovers. I felt I was careless. The mistakes were mental, ones I myself don’t usually make. I felt that was the big difference.”
Missouri’s shooting percentage (46.0) looked better than it was considering the Tigers were able to get off 50 shots, 13 less than Louisville which shot 49.2 percent.
“We shot well. It was the turnovers,” Haith said. “We just had some careless plays. We have to find a ways to make plays. Guys were trying to make home run plays instead of the easy plays.”
Chane Behanan and Peyton Siva both had 13 points for Louisville, which forced 86 turnovers coming in and had double-figure steals in each game. The Cardinals had 12 steals Friday with Smith getting half of them.
Pitino used the same baseball analogy Haith did when describing Smith.
“”Russ is a home run player. Every possession you really have your heart in your mouth, but he really hits a lot of home runs,” Pitino said. “He bothers everybody, and he allows Peyton to do a lot of good things out there because he is so intense and Peyton knows he is going to gamble. But you have got to give Russ his free reign.”
Alex Oriahki and Pressey both had 15 points for Missouri (4-1), which beat Stanford 78-70 in the first round. Pressey had seven assists.
The Tigers scored the first four points of the second half to get within 39-35. The Cardinals went on an 11-0 run that featured 3-pointers by Smith and Hancock and Missouri was never within 10 points the rest of the way. Of the Tigers’ three possessions during the big run, two ended in turnovers, the other with two missed free throws.
Oriahki had eight rebounds for Missouri, which finished with a 37-32 advantage on the boards.
“We just had mental breakdowns,” Oriakhi said. “Honestly, I felt we beat ourselves. Honestly, we needed this to get our heads where they should be.”