Louisville head coach Rick Pitino shouts to his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball tournament third-round game with New Mexico, in Portland, Ore., Saturday, March 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
(AP) Louisville coach Rick Pitino predicted it would be a low scoring game. He never anticipated such a struggle.
Russ Smith had 17 points as Louisville held off New Mexico 59-56 Saturday night for its sixth consecutive win to advance to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2009.
Kyle Kuric and Chane Behanan each added 10 points for the Big East tournament champions, who lost their first game of the NCAA tournament the past two seasons.
Trailing 53-46, New Mexico's Drew Gordon hit a pair of free throws, and Demetrius Walker made a 3-pointer to pull to within 53-51 with 1:36 left. Smith made a pair of free throws for fourth-seeded Louisville (28-9), but Gordon answered with a tip-in.
Gorgui Dieng dunked with 32.3 seconds left and Peyton Siva added free throws to make it 59-53. Gordon dropped a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left, but it was too late for the fifth seeded Lobos (28-7), who have never been to the round of 16.
Louisville, which led by as many as 15 points in the second half, advances to the West Regional semifinals in Columbus to face the winner of Sunday's game between Michigan State and Saint Louis.
Gordon led the Lobos with 21 points and 14 rebounds, despite appearing to hyperextend his left knee with 4:47 left in the first half. The 6-foot-9 senior, averaging 13.5 points and 11 rebounds going into the game, was prone on the court for several minutes before he was helped off the floor and into the locker room. He came back a short time later with the knee wrapped.
Louisville had been ousted in its first game of the tournament for the past two years, but that streak ended when the fourth-seeded Cardinals defeated Davidson 69-62 in a second-round game Thursday.
Smith made consecutive 3-pointers to put the Cardinals up 24-21 with 5:27 left in the first half. After A.J. Hardeman's layup narrowed it for New Mexico, Wayne Blackshear hit a jumper for Louisville.
Kendall Williams made a jumper for the Lobos as time wound down, and the Cardinals held a slim 26-25 lead at halftime.
Siva, who had a big group of family and friends from his hometown Seattle at the game, was held scoreless in the first half.
He came alive with about five minutes into the second half, when he hit a layup and then made a stunning behind-the-back pass on the fast break to Kuric for the layup and a 38-29 lead. Smith padded the lead with a quick steal and a layup, and Chris Smith knocked down a 3-pointer to complete a 13-2 run and put the Cardinals up 44-29.
In a rollercoaster season, Louisville rose to No. 4 in the rankings in December before tumbling with five losses in seven games. The Cardinals also lost three of four heading into the conference tournament. But it appeared that something clicked when Louisville won four games in four nights, capped by a 50-44 victory over Cincinnati in the Big East championship game.
New Mexico which knocked off UNLV and San Diego State to win the Mountain West tournament, had won 13 of 15 and six straight entering Saturday night's game against the Cardinals.
The last time Louisville and New Mexico played was in the second round of the NCAA East Regional in 1997. Louisville held off the rallying Lobos who missed a layup with three second left to win 64-63. The Cardinals went on to beat Texas before falling to North Carolina in the regional final.
Louisville won NCAA championships in 1980 and 1986.