The Fall of the Vols: How Cards Triumphed

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Steven Pearl, the son of Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, stood up with just under nine minutes remaining Thursday night and the Vols still very much in the game and implored the rest of his teammates to find some energy.

As he glared down the bench, hardly anyone batted an eye.

Maybe that's because Louisville, and specifically 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Earl Clark, had already sapped every bit of energy out of Charlotte Bobcats Arena.

Earl Clark's energy and defense off the Louisville bench sparked the Cards to a big win over Tennessee.

And definitely out of Tennessee.

In many ways, Louisville beat Tennessee at its own game in a 79-60 runaway in the East Regional semifinals that further solidified the Cardinals (27-8) as one of the hottest teams in the NCAA tournament.

They've won their first three games by an average margin of 22.3 points, and the closest anybody has come is 18 points. Nobody has scored more than 61 points against them in three tournament games, and they've held their last two opponents to less than 34 percent shooting from the field.

The only problem is that the one team any hotter, North Carolina, awaits the Cardinals in the East Regional championship game on Saturday (9:05 p.m. ET).

"The way we're playing now is the way Coach P [Rick Pitino] has been telling us we needed to play all year. It feels good to finally be clicking at just the right time," said Clark, who came off the bench to score 17 points, grab 12 rebounds and block four shots in 28 minutes.

"We know Carolina is the No. 1 team in the country, but nothing's going to change for us. We'll come out aggressive, play our game and play to win."

For Tennessee, it must have seemed like there were three or four Earl Clarks out there. Any time the Vols looked like they might be poised to make a run, he was there to block a shot, beat them back in transition or start a fast break with a rebound.

It was all Tennessee senior guard Chris Lofton could do just to get a glimpse at the basket. He closed out a fabulous career by going just 2-of-11 from 3-point range. Third all-time in 3-pointers made, Lofton had at least four of his shot attempts blocked or deflected, and Clark got two of those.

"We were going to take away the 3-point line from them, and that's what we did," Clark said. "Coach P had told us that Lofton's got to be guarded everywhere on the court and that they feed off him. We were going to make it hard for him to even get off a shot."

Lofton wasn't the only one affected. The Vols were 5-of-20 as a team from 3-point range, and they finished with their lowest point total in more than a month and a half.

Louisville's defense harassed Tennessee into an awful shooting night and its lowest point total since early February.

Physically, Louisville simply overwhelmed Tennessee with its athleticism and muscle inside. The Cardinals also went straight at J.P. Prince, who was starting his second straight game at point guard after playing most of the season at the 3 position.

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