LEXINGTON, Ky. -- No. 1 Louisville, the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament, had no trouble in its tournament opener Thursday, and it turned away No. 16 North Carolina A&T 79-48.
The Cardinals (30-5) were nearly unstoppable, suffocating the underdog Aggies with a full-court press from the opening tip until Louisville coach Rick Pitino pulled his starters with about six minutes to play and a substantial lead.
Louisville's 20 team steals set the record for steals in an NCAA Tournament game. It was also a season best for the Cardinals, who had 18 against College of Charleston on Nov. 4. Louisville guard Russ Smith finished with a career-high eight steals for the Cardinals.
Louisville was also unstoppable from the field in the first half, shooting 18-of-27 (66.7 percent) from the floor and 3-of-7 from 3-point range. Not much changed in the second half, either. The Cardinals poured on their 16-point halftime lead with a flurry of points to start the second half.
A run of seven unanswered points came and went in 2 minutes of play to start the second half. After two Aggies baskets, Louisville added 14 straight to grow its lead to 68-37 with under 10 minutes to play.
Louisville's dominance was never questioned in the first half, as it jumped out to a 16-4 lead. The margin widened from there, swelling to 40-19 with 5:08 until halftime.
The Aggies (20-17), who won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament as the No. 7 seed, scored six straight points to close the gap to 45-31 with 1:14 until the break, but Chane Behanan scored on a lob pass from Siva with 37 seconds to go to set the gap at 47-31.
Smith led all scorers with 23 points. Wayne Blackshear was the only other Cardinal in double figures; he finished with 12 points.
Bruce Beckford led the Aggies with 12 points. North Carolina A&T was 41.5 percent from the floor (17-of-41), but its 27 turnovers and 31-20 rebounding disadvantage nullified its proficiency from the floor.
NOTES: Louisville coach Rick Pitino was the head coach of Kentucky from 1989-97. Thursday's game was his ninth in Rupp Arena, the Wildcats' home, as Louisville's coach. He's now 4-5 at Rupp as the Cardinals' coach, including a 1-2 record in NCAA Tournament games. ... No. 1 seeds are now 114-0 in games against No. 16 seeds. Earlier Thursday, No. 1 Gonzaga in the West regional was tied with No. 16 Southern in the game's final three minutes but won 64-58. ... North Carolina A&T is now 1-10 all-time in the NCAA tournament. It won its first tournament game Tuesday in the First Four against Liberty, 73-72. ... North Carolina A&T alumnus Jesse Jackson was in attendance Thursday. He was wearing a blue-and-yellow letterman's jacket to support the Aggies.