MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Rick Pitino calls Ellis Myles the key player for the sixth-ranked Louisville Cardinals, and the senior forward showed exactly why he’s so valuable on Thursday.
Myles scored 10 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out 10 assists to record the first triple-double in Conference USA tournament history and just the second ever for Louisville in the Cardinals’ 85-61 victory over TCU in the quarterfinals.
Samaki Walker had the only other triple-double for Louisville on Jan. 1, 1995, against Kentucky.
Pitino compared Myles to Antoine Walker, who led Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats to a national title in 1996, and said the forward is one of two or three Cardinals that are their most valuable players.
“We can’t play without him,” Pitino said.
“I remember it so well. Antoine Walker did so many things for us at Kentucky with his ball handling and his passing. Ellis is doing the same things for us at Louisville. He’s not underappreciated by us. We know what he’s all about. We know how valuable he is. We know the shots he gets.”
The top-seeded Cardinals (27-4) never trailed in winning their seventh straight game and 16th in their last 17. They will play either UAB or DePaul in the semifinals on Friday as they try to add the tournament title to their regular-season championship.
Larry O’Bannon led Louisville with 18 points. Francisco Garcia had 15, Taquan Dean had 12 in his first start since Feb. 12 after tests showed no lingering signs of mononucleosis. Otis George added 11.
The scary thing about Myles might be that Pitino thinks he still has room for improvement.
“He got a little tired. That’s illegal for us. It’s against the rules. You can’t get tired. I was trying to get him out. I was hoping one of the guys would foul, so we could get some subs in there,” Pitino said.
That was about the only problem Louisville had as the Cardinals outrebounded TCU 41-28 and forced 21 turnovers.
TCU (19-13) hasn’t advanced past the quarterfinals of any tournament since reaching the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference tournament in 2000. The Horned Frogs stayed close for the first 11 minutes, then Louisville blew them out just like it has in four of the previous five meetings.
“Coach Pitino’s really got them playing exceptional basketball,” TCU coach Neil Dougherty said. “When you’re in a game against a team of their caliber for us, we have to have so many things go right, and we didn’t have nearly enough of that today.”
Aaron Curtis led TCU with 14 points.
The Horned Frogs tried to stay with the Cardinals, pressing them down the court. But George scored on a jumper in the opening minute to put Louisville ahead to stay.
Nile Murry pulled TCU within 19-15 with a pair of free throws with 5:38 to go, and that was as close as the Horned Frogs would get. Louisville finished the half with a 17-4 spurt, including 11 straight points that included Garcia hitting the Cardinals’ first 3-pointer of the game.
Brandon Jenkins and Dean each added a 3 down the stretch, and Louisville led 36-19 at halftime.
Louisville padded its lead with a 17-2 spurt in the second half, including nine straight points highlighted by a reverse dunk by O’Bannon off a pass from Myles. Garcia capped the run with a 3-pointer that put the Cardinals up 63-31 with 13:05 to go and their biggest lead of the game.
Myles said he knew he was close to the triple-double because his teammates kept reminding him. He credited Pitino with helping him improve this season.
“Early on in the season, Coach had made a comment that I had the biggest upside on the team because I took a year off last year, and I really took that to heart to try and improve my game in different facets,” Myles said.
About the only thing that didn’t go Louisville’s way was a couple of attempted dunks late in the game. First, Myles failed to throw down the ball, but the Cardinals got the rebound. Lorrenzo Wade tried to dunk seconds later only to see the ball bounce off the rim.
This is the second straight year that TCU won its first-round game and met the top seed in the quarterfinals. The Horned Frogs advanced Wednesday after beating Marquette with Golden Eagles star Travis Diener watching from the bench with a broken left hand.