PHOENIX — Louisville figured its game against Michigan State to be low-scoring, a natural expectation with two of the nation's best defenses butting heads.
The Cardinals had one big advantage: Gorgui Dieng.
Dominating inside, Dieng blocked seven shots and altered several others to anchor a stifling defense that helped Louisville knock off top-seeded Michigan State 57-44 Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals.
""He was very disruptive," Michigan State's Draymond Green said. "We're not going to back down from anyone. We took it at him. He pulled off some great blocked shots. That's what he does. That's his strength."
The Cardinals (29-9) relied on 3-point shooting in the first half and moved inside in the second to befuddle the Spartans.
Their defense gave Michigan State fits all night.
Instead of trapping like it normally does, Louisville played a bait-and-switch game with the Spartans and Green, their multitalented forward. The idea was to jump out on screens and to make the Spartans work on every possession and, hopefully, wear them out.
It worked, in large part because Dieng was in the back to clean things up.
Tent-pole thin when he arrived at Louisville, the Senegalese center worked hard on his body and his game, developing into the one player the Cardinals had to have on the floor during his sophomore season. When he got in foul trouble, Louisville labored, so one of the key parts of coach Rick Pitino's game plan was to make sure the Cardinals protected him.
They did and he protected the rim in return, getting five of his blocked shots in the second half to prevent Michigan State from mounting any kind of rally. The Cardinals move on to the West final against Marquette or Florida on Saturday.
"When we came here, we know (what) we're going to face," said Dieng, who also had five points, nine rebounds and three steals while matching the school record for blocked shots in an NCAA tournament game. "We knew we were going to come to a war. We need to be tougher than them to win this game."
Michigan State (29-8) started slow and never got going against Louisville's amoebic defense.
The Spartans got shots they wanted and usually make, but couldn't get many to fall against Dieng or anyone else, shooting 28 percent while being outscored 20-14 inside by the leaner Cardinals.
Green had 13 points and 16 rebounds in his final game for Michigan State. Brandon Wood added 14 points for the Spartans, who were outscored 17-4 off the bench.
"They disrupted us a little bit and we didn't have enough guys who could play well," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
This sweet matchup of top programs featured two of college basketball's best short-preparation coaches.
Pitino has used his speed-the-opponent-up system to reach the Final Four five times, becoming the first coach to lead three different schools to the national semifinals. Once past the NCAA tournament's first week, he's had a knack for guiding his team further along the bracket, going 10-0 in the regional semifinals.
Izzo has spent his 17 years at Michigan State building teams that can handle the rigors of the Big Ten or switch to greyhound mode when the opponent plays fast. He's been as consistent as any coach in the game, leading the Spartans to the Final Four six times, including the 2000 national title, and 10 trips to the regionals round the past 15 years.
Izzo played the right hand the last time these two basketball brains met, taking the Spartans to the 2009 Final Four after they found a way to break Louisville's pressure.
Pitino had something up his sleeve this time.
With Michigan State bogging the game down, the Cardinals struggled early, missing 12 of their first 13 shots. They snapped out of it by hitting 3s.
Russ Smith hit a pair, Jared Swopshire and Chris Smith each dropped one in and, even Dieng — 0 for 2 in his career previously — got one to go in.
Swopshire closed it out with a 3 from the corner to put the Cardinals up 23-18 at halftime. Louisville was 7 of 15 from the arc in the half, but got almost nothing inside, hitting 1 of 15 shots from two-point range.
"Our game plan was to cut off the paint," Izzo said. "I thought we did actually a very good job of that. And yet they hit some 3's."
Louisville shifted gears to open the second half, getting two layups and a dunk to keep its cushion. Swopshire followed with an alley-oop to Siva for the point guard's first points, then stole the inbound pass to set up two free throws by Russ Smith that put the Cardinals up 35-25.
Michigan State managed a short run to get within four, but Louisville used its pressure to get a couple of steals and baskets to go up 43-32. Dieng followed with a couple more swats — one on Keith Appling that sailed into the stands — to keep the Spartans at arm's length.
"He played an exceptional game," Pitino said.
Good enough to get Louisville into the regional final for the third time in six years, a trip to New Orleans and the Final Four within its sights.
SYRACUSE 64, WISCONSIN 63: At Boston, top-seeded Syracuse used a breakout game by the slumping C.J. Fair to advance to the East Regional final.
Wisconsin missed two potential winning shots in the final seconds, and the Orange hung on to reach the round of eight for the first time since 2003, when they won their only national championship.
Fair, who had scored a total of 20 points in his last six games, finished with 15 on 7-for-9 shooting. Scoop Jardine had 14 points, while Dion Waiters had 13 and Brandon Triche 11.
Kris Joseph, a 75 percent free throw shooter, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 18 seconds to go with Syracuse up by a point, giving the Badgers a chance at the victory.
Passing the ball around the perimeter of the zone but creating much space, Jordan Taylor let go a 3-point attempt with 3 seconds left. It bounced off the rim and Josh Gasser's shot at the buzzer was off.
Jared Berggren and Taylor both had 17 points for the Badgers (26-10), who finished 14 of 27 from 3-point range but couldn't make one over the final 6 minutes.
Syracuse (34-2) plays Ohio State in the regional final Saturday.
OHIO STATE 81, CINCINNATI 66: At Boston, Deshaun Thomas scored 26 points and Jared Sullinger had 23 points and 11 rebounds to lead second-seeded Ohio State to an 81-66 victory over No. 6 seed Cincinnati on Thursday night, putting the Buckeyes in the East Regional finals.
Aaron Craft added 11 points — all in the second half — with five assists and six steals, taking charge during a 17-1 second-half run that turned a four-point deficit into a double-digit lead.
Cashmere Wright scored 18 and Sean Kilpatrick had 15 for the Bearcats, who were attempting to match Big East rival Syracuse by beating a Big Ten opponent to advance to the round of eight. The top-seeded Orange advanced earlier Thursday by beating fourth-seeded Wisconsin at the TD Garden.
It's the first trip to the regional finals for Ohio State (30-7) since 2007, when it lost in the national championship game to Florida.Comment on this story
FLORIDA 68, MARQUETTE 58: At Phoenix, Bradley Beal scored 21 points Thursday to lift Florida to a victory and set up Gators coach Billy Donovan with a meeting against his old boss, Rick Pitino, in the West Regional final.
The seventh-seeded Gators (26-10) expanded a six-point halftime lead to double digits, then held off third-seeded Marquette (27-8) to take their second straight trip to the regional final. Last year, they lost to Butler. This time, they meet Louisville and Pitino.
Beal, a freshman who has NBA written all over him, shot 8 for 10 and had six rebounds and four assists.
Marquette got 15 points from Jae Crowder and 14 from fellow senior Darius Johnson-Odom, but the Golden Eagles exited the tournament in the round of 16 for the second straight year.