INDIANAPOLIS — Louisville's loss ended more than a season.
It ended an era.
The Cardinals are headed home after a 74-69 loss to Kentucky on Friday night, bringing to a close a three-year run that included a national title, back-to-back trips to the Final Four and two consecutive conference titles — in two different conferences, no less.
"How can any of us complain with the run we've been on? We've celebrated an awful lot these last three years," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
THE GAME: Kentucky 74, Louisville 69
"It's the end of an era for us, for a lot of us," he said. "It's something we're certainly going to miss."
Pitino singled out Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Stephan Van Treese, along with Montrezl Harrell, a sophomore who is likely to leave early for the NBA. He also mentioned Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, key members of Louisville's title team last year.
"It's the end of an era," a somber Pitino said. "And I as a coach certainly appreciate all their efforts."
RUSS SMITH: The future
Asked if it might be the end for him, too, the 61-year-old brushed the question aside.
"I'm thinking about my players; I'm not thinking about myself," he said.
This loss, though, is sure to stay with Pitino for a while.
The Cardinals had a seven-point lead with 4:33 to play, but managed only three points the rest of the game. Smith gave away one possession with a turnover, causing Pitino to scream and stamp his foot, and Wayne Blackshear missed a free throw that would have tied the game at 70 with 14 seconds left.
Then, when Louisville got the ball back in the closing seconds, Smith launched a quick 3 that didn't even get close to the rim. Kentucky came up with the rebound, effectively ending the game.
"I came off the ball screen, and I automatically looked for Luke. And then I seen he was being face guarded by (Alex) Poythress," Smith said. "I tried to take a 3‑pointer to tie it up, and it just missed."
Smith and Pitino's relationship is famously complicated. The guard is supremely talented, able to make shots and plays that no one else could even imagine.
But he's also impulsive and unpredictable, and more than a little bit of Pitino's grey hair is a result of Smith's antics.
He chastised Smith repeatedly during the game — "Russ, you're hurting us!" he yelled after Smith ignored a wide-open Hancock for another bad miss — and the coach's criticisms of Louisville's poor free throws may as well have been directed right at Smith. Louisville was 13-of-23 at the line, with Smith going 4-of-10.
Smith also was 9-of-20 from the floor, and made just one of his seven attempts from 3-point range.
"Missing my free throws in the first half, but other than that, I gave it my all," Smith said. "Honestly, I just wish I would have hit my free throws in the first half and we would have come up with the win."
Instead, his college career is finished. So, too, Louisville's great run.
"What the seniors did for this program is good," freshman Terry Rozier said. "Back-to-back Final Fours and a national championship, they can't hang their heads too bad."
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