CHARLOTTE, N.C. Louisville's suffocating defense has coach Rick Pitino a step away from a sixth trip to the Final Four.
Earl Clark scored 17 points and had 12 rebounds, and Pitino's mix of defenses made life miserable for Tennessee in a 79-60 victory Thursday night to put the third-seeded Cardinals in the East Regional final.
Pitino, who has won two NCAA titles and has taken three schools to the Final Four, has Louisville playing its best basketball of the season when it counts most. After Louisville's two blowout wins last weekend, Pitino's signature zone and pressure limited the high-scoring Volunteers to 34-percent shooting. The veteran coach improved to 8-0 in regional semifinals and secured a date with top-seed North Carolina on Saturday.
Terrence Williams and Andre McGee each added 13 points and David Padgett had 10 points and eight rebounds for Louisville (27-8), which nearly blew all of a 16-point first half lead, only to take control midway through the second half.
Chris Lofton had 15 points for No. 2 seed Tennessee, but was 3-for-15 in his final game with the Volunteers (31-5), who have never advanced beyond the round of 16.
After a horrible start, Tennessee got within 37-36 early in the second half. But then the springy Clark had a driving layup, hit a baseline jumper and converted a three-point play in a 13-5 run.
Louisville hit nine free throws over the final 5 minutes to keep Tennessee at bay.