Fourth-seeded Louisville will face 13th-seeded UC Irvine Friday afternoon in Seattle, Washington in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The Anteaters (21-12) are playing in their program’s first NCAA tournament game while the Cardinals (24-8) have made trips to nine consecutive NCAA tournaments and won the 2013 National Championship.
A week ago, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said he believed the NCAA tournament committee would send his team out west for the opening weekend.
To no surprise, the Cardinals were sent West, but the 2,000 mile journey to Seattle was greeted as a way to focus on basketball.
“It’s a little tricky since we have a young team and it tends to distract us a little bit. But I remember going back to my freshman year we went to the west coast and made a run, so it’s no pressure to us at all. We just want to play,” Wayne Blackshear said. “So it’s good that we got away. Now we’re just focusing on what we have to do and to come together as a team and watch film and study our opponents.”
UC Irvine has the tallest player in college basketball, Mamadou Ndiaye, standing at 7-foot-6. The 300-pound center is averaging 10.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
Montrezl Harrell said the Cardinals have watched film on Ndiaye and understand the importance of staying in good position while defending him.
“He doesn’t play a lot of minutes. They have three centers at 7-foot-6, 7-foot-1 and 6-foot-10. So they have got people to back him up,” Pitino said.
Louisville enters the field of 68 teams in the NCAA tournament dead last in three point shooting.
To make up for the poor perimeter shooting, defense becomes critical. Louisville ranks sixth nationally in the defensive efficiency.
“If you’re not a great three-point shooting team, that’s okay. We haven’t had a bad loss all season. The most important thing is that when you’re not a great shooting team is that you defend the three,” Pitino said.
After an early exit in the ACC tournament, Louisville had a full week of practice to continue to try to form together after the dismissal of starting point guard Chris Jones.
Through all of the adversity, Louisville now has the opportunity to define their season in March.
“This is my favorite time of year,” Pitino said. “Every facet of it is so exciting.”
Photo by Austin Lassell / The Louisville Cardinal