Louisville stormed into the NCAA championship game today because of guard Darrell Griffith, who defied defensing, and rebounders who defied gravity.
What started as a shootout between Griffith and Iowa guard Ronnie Lester ended as a virtuoso performance by Griffith and a 80-72 Louisville victory. Lester watched most of the game on a television monitor, his bruised right knee packed with ice, after a collision that sent him to the sidelines with 7:47 remaining in the first half. He never returned after scoring 10 points.
Lester's presence today probably would not have advanced these comeback Hawkeyes, the fourth-place finisher in the Big Ten, into Monday's 9:15 p.m. final against UCLA.
Just thinking about Louisville's jumping ability forced the Hawkeyes into changing the trajectory of their early shots. Iowa, a team that missed only seven shots in the second half of its 81-80 East Regional victory over Georgetown last week, missed that many in the opening 4 1/2 minutes today.
Vince Brookins and Kevin Boyle, the two forwards who shot so well in the East Regional, shot zero for 11 in the opening 10 minutes, two for 15 in the first half and six for 26 for the game, including zero for eight by Boyle. t
Meanwhile, Griffith, who is called "Louisville's Living Legend," made his 100th career college victory a display of the best way to dissect the well-prepared Hawkeyes.
He scored 16 of the Cardinals' first 18 points, mainly on long jumpers, forcing Iowa to stop sagging on Louisville's big men. That opened up the Cardinals' inside game, and 6-foot-7 freshman Rodney McCray and his fellow front-liners took full advantage.
Griffith finished with 34 points, one under his career high, on 14-of-21 shooting. He added six assists, five rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots.
"The tighter we were on him," said Iowa Coach Lute Olson, "the better he shot the ball. He played as well against us as anyone's ever played against us."
"It is frustrating," Brookins said, "when you have two people in his face and he's shooting all net. It's very frustrating. The way he played, it opened the inside up."
McCray scored 14 points and forward Derek Smith added 13, mainly from the inside and many following offensive rebounds that enabled Louisville to hold a 36-26 margin on the backboards.They also were the players Brookins and Boyle feared would block their shots.
"We were thinking about it before the game," Brookins said. "We didn't think about altering our shots. We just got in there and, being tight like we were, we altered them. That didn't help us a lot. In the first half, we were really overanxious."
Olson described his team's plight as well as anyone.
"The first couple of shots Kevin Boyle went up for, I thought he was a contortionist," Olson said. "Two things hurt us: Lester going out and us coming out tight, concerned about their shot-blocking ability."
Griffith already had scored 18 points when Lester was injured, as Rober Burkman fouled him trying to stop a fast-break layup. The injury occurred to the same knee that forced Lester to miss 15 games of Iowa's 23-9 season.
Afterward, Olson said that Lester could have continued playing, but the knee would have become swollen. Therefore, Olson said, it was decided to hold Lester the remainder of the game. He may be able to play in the consolation game Monday night for third place against Purdue.
Kenny Arnold moved to the pointguard slot and led the Hawkeyes with 20 points.
The problems Griffith caused Iowa's man-on-man defense hurt the Hawkeyes the most today. Arnold wasn't tall enough to guard him and freshman Bob Hansen was too inexperienced. So Olson switched to Boyle, his best defensive forward who forced eight Louisville turnovers throughout the game.
With that strategy, Iowa won the battle, but lost the war. Griffith did not score the final eight minutes of the first half, 2 1/2 minutes of which he rested on the bench, but the Hawkeyes were weakened considerably inside and Louisville forged a 34-29 advantage at intermission.
So Iowa started the second half with Arnold back on Griffith. That did not last long. Griffith scored Louisville's first two baskets of the second half and Boyle agains was assigned to guard him, to be followed by Hansen.
After one shot stretch, when Iowa closed to within 42-40, the Hawkeyes only twice more had possession with a chance to come within two points.
McCray snuffed out the chance to tie it at 42 by swatting away an Arnold shot that Burkman converted into two free throws at the other end. Three times after that, Iowa cut the Cardinal lead to four points.
The first time Griffith, with a hand in his face, looped in a 15-foot bank shot. The second time, Griffith missed, but McCray converted an offensive rebound into a basket and a 61-55 lead.
I knew they were great leapers and we had to concentrate on blocking them out," Brookins said. "I thought we did a good job of that. Some people defy gravity."
Iowa had a chance to cut the gap to three when Smith made only one of two free throws with 3:20 left. But Smith blocked a Hansen follow-up attempt and Griffith found Jerry Eaves cutting through to the basket for the first of three straight assists that clinched the game.
With two seconds left, Griffith came out to a standing ovation from the Market Square Arena crowd of 16,637. First he stopped and slapped hands with the Iowa players on the court. Then he ran down the Iowa bench, shook coaches' hands and slapped players' hands again.
"I know how a team feels that got this far and loses," Griffith said. "I just wanted to congratulate them for getting this far."
Monday night, this 32-3 Louisville takes the first step toward its first NCAA title, the first time the Cardinals have reached the championship game in three final four appearances under Coach Denny Crum.