I don't want to talk this thing to death this week like a lot of people are going to do. But here's a look at Greg Oden's fifth personal foul from the waning seconds of regulation Saturday afternoon:
First of all, if the referees do call an intentional foul in that situation, the game is over and Xavier advances. If you're Oden, all you need to do is reach out and touch the guy -- the officials are aware of the situation and are going to be looking for the foul. But instead of just grabbing Cage, the seven-footer actually steps into the Xavier forward and shoves him with two hands. I was sitting where the sideline meets the baseline about 25 feet away from the play (the bottom-right of the screen), and I thought the play would be whistled as an intentional foul for one reason: the resounding THUMP that was made when Cage's body hit the floor. That kind of force doesn't happen by mistake.
What makes this play even more curious is that Oden's defining characteristic throughout the season has been a composure -- on the defensive end in particular -- that's beyond his 19 years.
The refs might not have called this a flagrant foul. But the fact that Oden would put the game in the hands of the officials -- the fact that the foul could have been deemed flagrant -- is exactly what makes the move such a head-scratcher. Can you imagine if the future NBA all-star's last play as a collegian was a sudden Zizou-like combustion in the closing seconds of an upset loss?
Some quotes from the Texas A&M post-game press conference:
"I told him that he's a heck of a player. He played extremely hard. For him to be a freshman and take control of his team like that -- he has a bright future ahead of him." --TAMU's Acie Law on what he said to Louisville's Edgar Sosa after the game
"We know our friends are going to come out and show us support. We also know the crowd isn't going to win games but, like they helped Louisville today, they're going to help us." --Law on playing the next game close to home (in San Antonio)
"It feels so great right now. I can't describe the emotions. It is a feeling that can't be beat. I'm just proud to be an Aggie." --TAMU's Marlon Pompey on reaching the Sweet 16
On Thursday, Penn played Texas A&M down to the last four minutes. Today, Louisville played the Aggies down to the last four seconds. That's when Edgar Sosa's three-point attempt -- a potential game-clincher -- struck the right side of the cylinder and Joseph Jones gobbled up the rebound.
Down goes the trendy Final Four sleeper.
Not even kidding: One and only one section in this entire stadium is standing and cheering.
Terrence Williams just caught an alley-oop offering from Edgar Sosa in transition and threw down a ferocious two-handed dunk, a violent display that ignited the pro-Louisville crowd (threatening to blow to roof off this place).
Joseph Jones responded with a lay-up while getting fouled but a missed the subsequent free throw to keep the score at 65-62 with less than five minutes to go.
Those in attendance hoping to see an upset might have been disappointed when Ohio State rallied to top Xavier in the first game -- but could get their wish in the next couple minutes.
Acie Law just exploded toward the goal and deposited a lay-up to open a 35-29 lead, prompting two face-painted TAMU fans to run toward the the bottom of a Louisville/Ohio State fan section -- you can't tell with all the red -- and hold up their sign in hope of some camera time.
Three numbers that jump out from the halftime box:
The Cardinals have recorded just one assist on their 10 field goals.
Acie Law has flexed his scoring punch with a team-high nine points but Louisville has done a good job undermining his role as a distributor. The Dallas native has recorded just one assist against three turnovers.
Both schools have been doing a great job on the defensive glass in combining for just five offensive boards (and four second-chance points).
Since my next two trips -- to the South Regional semis and finals in San Antonio and the Final Four in Atlanta -- will be played in cavernous domes, I might not watch a game the rest of the season in a louder building than Rupp Arena today. The people in charge can say whatever they want about ticket distribution and the integrity of the neutral site -- but this building (less than 80 miles across Interstate 64 from Louisville's campus) is Freedom Hall East.
The couple hundred Texas A&M fans in the building are dwarfed in Section 30 across the court from me -- and I can barely hear them.
Live from the bowels of Rupp Arena: Thad Matta is still at the podium and Xavier's players (along with Sean Miller) won't take the stage until after the Ohio State coach is through. It sounds like Aggies-Cardinals has gotten underway -- yes, I can hear the overwhelmingly pro-Louisville crowd through the thousands of tons of concrete -- so I'll be sure to give a quick update on that game as soon as I get back out there.
After Ohio State ripped off 10 unanswered points during the extra frame to put the Buckeyes ahead 72-64, a Stanley Burrell free throw and a Justin Doellman breakway dunk closed the deficit to 72-67 with 1:17 remaining. It's Ohio State's ball in the frontcourt.
Greg Oden can only watch as kemo sabe Mike Conley, Jr., takes over in the extra frame. The two were teammates for four seasons at Lawrence North High in Indianapolis, winning three consecutive Indiana state titles while amassing a 103-7 record.
After Justin Doellman opened the scoring with a basket in the paint, Ohio State's freshman point guard has scored seven straight points to give the Bucks a 69-64 lead.
Just three weeks ago after Conley hit the game-winner in OSU's victory over then-No. 1 Wisconsin, Oden told the traveling media, "Coach always says that me and him are the only two people who know what Mike Conley can do."
Now, a nation of watchful college basketball fans is finding out.
Ohio State took possession on a defensive rebound trailing by two points but Jamar Butler's three-pointer drew iron. David Lighty (I think -- we're getting no replay in this building) missed the follow and Xavier came up with the ball.
Greg Oden committed the necessary foul with 9.3 seconds remaining and Xavier leading 61-59.
With Xavier clinging to a rapidly evaporating 61-59 lead, all 5-foot-7 of Drew Lavender just barely got the ball over the timeline. The Musketeers worked the ball around the perimeter for the first 16 seconds before Sean Miller called a twenty-second timeout.
The Ohio State supporters which have sat slack-jawed and sedated for the past 10 minutes have been re-animated thanks to a final-reel run -- eight straight points -- that has cut the Xavier lead to 59-58 with just over a minute remaining in regulation.
And Greg Oden just missed the front end of a one-and-one. The contest is far from over but the things that need to happen in order for one of these upsets to occur -- the underdog's plucky disposition and unconscious shooting, the favorite's questionable coaching and poor foul shooting, the crowd's overwhelming support -- are all happening.
Drew Lavender just hit an off-balance three to open the Xavier advantage to 55-44. The Xavier fans, all standing, continue to go wild -- while the Ohio State supporters sit nervously in a state of disbelief. As OSU just got whistled for a shooting foul -- Cage made both to open a nine-point lead with under five minutes remaining -- the poor student in that goofy-looking Brutus Buckeye mascot costume just screamed a four-letter word.
The Musketeers have scored the last eight points to stake a 47-41 lead and ignite the Rupp Arena crowd into song and cheer. A tournament devoid of any major upsets could be approaching its first.
Josh Duncan's three-pointer gave Xavier the lead at 42-41 -- the 11th lead change of the contest -- while a pair of baskets from Justin Cage extended the advantage. In the meantime, Greg Oden picked up his third personal foul to the delight of the Xavier fans (and the unaffiliated who have been drawn to the side of the underdogs).
A 50-50 call just went against the Musketeers and it's just become clear who the sizable Texas A&M contingent is pulling for. Four entire sections of fans clad in maroon and white just protested the referee's decision even louder than the Xavier fans did. For whatever reason, the Louisville fans seem to be a little more indifferent -- but Rupp Arena seems to be 60-40 in favor of the Jesuits.
Meanwhile, the drama continues to build as the Buckeyes and Musketeers have traded the lead on the last four scoring possessions. A Josh Duncan three-pointer just put the Musketeers ahead 42-41 with 11 minutes and change remaining in regulation.
The electricity in Rupp Arena is building slowly as top-seeded Ohio State and ninth-seeded Xavier go blow for blow.
After Justin Doellman scored the first seven points of the half in succession to put the Jesuits ahead 32-29, a pair of Ohio State baskets -- courtesy of Greg Oden and Jamar Butler -- gave the Buckeyes a one-point edge. But Justin Cage's fadeaway three-pointer on the baseline took back the advantage and ignited the raucous Xavier fan section.
...Xavier's Justin Doellman scored the first five points of the half -- on a post move over Oden and a wide-open three -- during the first 90 seconds to give the Musketeers their first lead of the game since 12-11. Section 16 -- where the Xavier contingent is packed like sardines -- is gone bananers.
Ohio State is back to the man defense, by the way.
At the break, Ohio State holds a 29-25 advantage over Xavier.
Not sure why the Buckeyes has been sitting back in that zone defense -- since the strategy would seem to benefit the less athletic Musketeers -- but I suppose Matta wants to prevent his team's minor foul trouble from becoming major. Besides, Xavier wasn't really making any of the longer jumpers that the zone concedes until the end of the half. We'll see if Matta's more passive and conservative strategy pays off during the second half.
After exchanging the lead on four consecutive scoring possessions, Xavier's Justin Cage tied the score on a free throw before Jamar Butler put the Buckeyes ahead 16-13 on a trifecta from the elbow. That's where we stand at the eight-minute media timeout.
Sophomore Johnny Wolf took Jamar Butler off the dribble and rattled home a six-foot baseline jumper to give Xavier its first lead of the game at 9-8. The Musketeers will try to build on that advantage after regaining possession on a Greg Oden offensive foul. XU fans going nuts.
Cole just threw down an alley-oop offering from pocket-sized point guard Drew Lavender to close the Ohio State advantage to 9-8. Both sides are well-represented at Rupp Arena, which makes for an electric atmosphere in one of college basketball's most hallowed shrines.
Ohio State and Xavier have met just three times throughout their histories despite their close proximity to one another (100 miles), with the Buckeyes holding a 2-1 advantage in the series. The Columbus school won a pair of meetings during the 1930s with the Cincy school taking a first-round NIT contest in 1984.
Top-seeded Ohio State has jumped out to an early 7-4 lead over No. 9 seed Xavier at the 16-minute media timeout.
When the current crop of Xavier seniors were freshmen, the Thad Matta-coached Musketeers overcame a lackluster first half of the season to rally for the Atlantic 10 title. Along the way, the Cincinnati school topped then-No. 1 and still-undefeated Saint Joseph's in the conference tournament quarterfinals in an 87-67 laugher which wasn't even as close as that final score would indicate.
Three years later Justin Cage, Brandon Cole and Justin Doellman look to collect another upset of the nation's top-ranked team.
Some highlights from the post-game pressers Thursday at Rupp Arena:
"The message before the game was, 'Guys, you've got to take more chances in the NCAA Tournament because some teams will come out tight, and we can't do that. Don't play tight, play very loose. Be active, be risk takers, don't be afraid to foul.' That was the message all week. The NCAA attitude has to be a lot different, and I told them specifically that we were going to have more fans than them but that you can't try to turn the fans on -- you've got to play fundamental basketball. Pay no attention to anything except Stanford." --Louisville coach Rick Pitino on his advice to the Cardinals prior to the game
"Quite frankly now that I've seen [the Cardinals] up close and personal, I'd have to say no. Just from the standpoint of how they pressure you out of your zone. But I said going into the game my concerns were how we were going to take care of the ball." --Stanford coach Trent Johnson on whether any Pac-10 opponent compares to Louisville
"Our team always plays hard. You have periods in a game where things don't go very well and you know Penn isn't going to keep missing as many shots as they did. They have too good of an offensive plan and too many good players to keep struggling. We knew they'd make some shots and we weren't hitting our free throws when they did. It's a 48-minute game and you're going to have good and bad periods against a team that has gotten this far. We just needed to hit some three throws, finish some plays and play a little faster." --Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie on falling behind Pennsylvania during the second half
"We played a terrible first half but we came out the second half and showed a lot of perseverance and we actually ended up being up two then they got two big dunks and a lot of momentum went back to their side. We took a few good shots and had a few good looks and after all of that the game changed." --Pennsylvania's Brian Grandieri on the flow of the game
"That is something we stress is not fouling. I always tell our guys that fouling is a sign of weakness. You're not playing hard enough if you're fouling. I don't know what we finished -- either second or third in the country in fewest fouls per game -- and I think that's something we want to continue to hone in on. That's something we take great pride in." --Ohio State coach Thad Matta on his team committing just five personal fouls the entire game
"Our biggest fear reared its head in the first half when we fell behind early. The first three minutes were the most important of the game. Unfortunately, it happened -- when we didn't want it to happen. We never stopped fighting despite turning the ball over early." --Central Connecticut State coach Howie Dickenmen on the game's early stages
"I give our team tremendous credit because we had to really reach back deep in the second half to beat them. The play of [Derrick Brown, Justin Doellman and Drew Lavender] really inspired the rest of our team. It was a hard-fought victory -- it's our 25th of the season. I'm very proud to be the coach of this team and at Xavier. I'm happy for Xavier University. We're very excited about advancing. It's hard enough to make the tournament and it's even harder to advance. We're glad to be in the seat that we're in." --Xavier coach Sean Miller on the significance of the victory
"We were nervous about their post players so we changed the way we guarded in the post. I think that opened up the lane for him and he's an extremely good player. I had trouble staying in front of him to guard him." --BYU's Austin Ainge on the stretch play of Drew Lavender
There's definitely a Xavier fan in sunglasses, a giant yellow banana suit and a Justin Doellman jersey -- with a large sticker reading "DOELL-MAN" -- trying to rush the court. May or may not be wearing nothing under there.
Drew Lavender slashed into the lane and connected on a teardrop jumper at the 1:58 mark to tie the score at 73-73. Then Cummard turned the ball over for BYU and Lavender connected on another floater to give Xavier a 75-73 lead.
Cummard redeemed himself with a reverse lay-up that knotted the score again at 75 apiece. But Josh Duncan's driving lay-in at the 31.8 mark re-opened Xavier's two-point edge.
BYU was forced to foul when the Cougars couldn't come up with an equalizer and Lavender's two free throws sealed the victory.
More to come from the post-game pressers plus a full recap of the day in Lexington and a preview of tomorrow's action in Columbus. (Sleep when you're dead!)
Drew Lavender's three-pointer from the corner just broke a 68-68 deadlock with just under four minutes remaining in regulation.
Justin Doellman pulled down the defensive rebound on the other end and Xavier took possession with an opportunity to extend its three-point advantage but Brandon Cole got whistled for an offensive foul while backing down his defender with the ball.
Seven free throws in the last three scoring possessions (out of eight attempts) have given the Musketeers their first lead of the game -- at 59-55 -- since early in the first half. Just under 10 minutes remain in regulation.
Brigham Young needs something out of this next possession to stop the bleeding.
Xavier has closed Brigham Young's lead to 55-53 on back-to-back threes by Doellman and diminutive point guard Drew Lavender and the noise in Rupp Arena is reaching a fever pitch. The Musketeers still trail by a bucket but all the momentum is theirs (with a home crowd behind them).
BYU appears to be a bit rattled by the hostile environment -- but don't expect the Mountain West regular-season champs to fold just yet.
Brigham Young holds a 49-40 lead over the Musketeers with 14:37 remaining. But the Cougars just committed their sixth and seventh personal fouls of the half within the last six seconds (compared to Xavier's one), so the Jesuits will be in the bonus for the rest of regulation -- no small consideration.
Xavier just forced its first tie -- then took its first lead of the contest -- on a pair of Justin Doellman baskets.
Doellman's three-pointer at the 5:33 mark knotted the score at 26 apiece. But after the Musketeers got a defensive stop, the 6-foot-9, 210-pound native of Kentucky canned a jumper to give Xavier a 28-26 and ignite the pro-XU crowd.
We're at the 12-minute media timeout and Xavier has used an 11-3 run to pull within 14-13.
During the break, Ohio State coach Thad Matta walked out of one of the tunnels to speak to someone on press row -- immediately inciting a loud round of boos and negative chants ("Sell-out!") from the Xavier fans throughout the Rupp Arena stands. XU supporters still feel jilted about how Matta left the Cincinnati school just weeks after coaching the Musketeers to within a game of the Final Four in 2004.
Quick history lesson: On Jan. 31, 2004, Xavier slipped to 10-9 on the season after its fifth loss in six tries and Matta -- then in his third season on the XU sidelines -- was feeling the heat from the Jesuit school's notoriously demanding fan base.
But Xavier moved to 11-9 with a 71-69 victory over then-No. 10 Cincinnati in the Crosstown Shootout, the school's most important rivalry game of the season. That huge out-of-conference win sparked a late-season run to the Atlantic 10 title and the Elite Eight (including a 20-point win over then-undefeated Saint Joseph's).
All of a sudden -- to no one's surprise -- the Xavier fans loved Matta.
The Illinois native ended up taking the Ohio State job that off-season to the disappointment of the Xavier camp. But I've always wondered whether the hostile and mutinous treatment endured by Matta during the hard times that season played into his decision to leave.
Central Connecticut State senior Obie Nwadike just left the game at the 4:35 mark to a modest ovation.
As a member of the United States Basketball Writer's Association, I vote on an 10-player All-District team (my district encompasses Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C.) in addition to a 10-player All-America team during the first week of March. Nwadike, who played under legendary prep coach Bob Hurley at St. Anthony's (N.J.), was one my All-District selections for this season. In leading the Blue Devils to their third-ever NEC championship, the Jersey City native averaged a double double (14.8 points and 10.9 rebounds) despite his modest 6-foot-4 frame.
Needless to say, his production -- and personality -- will be missed in New Britain.
There not a whole lot to write about. This place is about as sterile as an operating room as the Buckeyes maintain a lead that's fluctuated from lopsided to comfortable to lopsided and back to comfortable again (State leads, 67-46).
But is Greg Oden a stud or what? Kid's got 11 points and 10 rebounds with six minutes and change remaining -- a deec line as is, but one that belies the Indianapolis native's impact on the game. Kevin Durant is the Player of the Year, no question. But I almost wish some NBA general manager would take Durant with the No. 1 pick this June just so my buddies and I can spend the next 50 years ridiculing him. (Uh, as long as that GM isn't Billy King.)
Ohio State's lights-out shooting has cooled and Central Connecticut State appears to have overcome the worst of their early-game jitters -- moving the ball more confidently to the interior. (Senior forward Jemino Sobers even beat the OSU front line for a two-handed dunk just now.) But the Blue Devils needed the perfect game to beat the Buckeyes -- and that they're not getting.
Turnovers have led to uncontested baskets for the Bucks as CCSU has yet to string together two scoring plays in succession.
That being said, what once appeared to be a blowout in the making has turned out to be suprisingly competitive: Ohio State leads, 29-17, at the four-minute media timeout.
You hate to call this thing so early out of respect for the Blue Devils -- a team which went 16-2 in NEC play during the regular season before rolling to a conference tournament title -- but Ohio State has looked razor-sharp in the early going.
Central Connecticut State trails 14-3 at the first media timeout just four minutes into the game and just twice have managed to push the ball within the three-point circle on offense. All but one offensive possession has resulted in a low-percentage shot from beyond the arc with the shot clock running down.
Meanwhile, Ohio State's offense is running like a top. Three-balls from Mike Conley, Jr., Jamar Butler and Ron Lewis (two) along with a Greg Oden dunk have helped the Buckeyes stake an early 11-point lead. Got a funny feeling that number is going to continue to grow.
Very, very pro-Goliath crowd in the house for the evening session as top-seeded Ohio State and No. 16-seeded Central Connecticut State -- champions of the Big Ten and Northeast Conferences, respectively -- take the floor.
Maybe 150 supporters of the Blue Devils who made the trip down from New Britain, Conn., are seated opposite the CCSU bench -- many just hoping to see their team hold its own against the nation's top-ranked team.
With Texas A&M clinging to a five-point lead and Penn playing some of their most energetic defense of the game, Dominique Kirk canned a brilliant seven-foot jumper from the baseline with four seconds remaining on the shot clock. Then after the Quakers came up empty on the other end, Kirk's three-pointer opened the lead to 10 points -- putting Penn's upset hopes on life support.
Since Jaaber's put-back gave Penn its first and only lead of the contest, Texas A&M has used a pair of thunderous put-back dunks from Jones (about 15 feet from your faithful narrator), a pair of Josh Carter foul shots and a couple of Law baskets to open a 47-39 lead. Meanwhile, Penn has fallen frigid on the offensive end.
At the eight-minute media timeout, the Quakers find themselves on the wrong end of a 47-39 deficit -- and need to put an end to this five-minute scoring drought in a hurry.
Whatever Glen Miller told the Quakers during halftime is working (for the time being). Ibby Jaaber, Justin Reilly and Mark Zoller have each contributed baskets -- including three the hard way from Zoller -- during a 10-4 run that has closed TAMU's lead to 35-28 at the 16-minute media timeout with Penn's Darren Smith getting ready to shoot a pair of fouls.
The traveling Penn contingent -- maybe a thousand strong -- have become more vocal during the run. But the Quakers have yet to attract a noticeable amount of the indifferents to their side.
After opening a 31-16 lead with a Bryan Davis put-back dunk -- TAMU's largest lead of the game at 15 points -- Penn's Ibby Jaaber deposited an acrobatic driving lay-up with under a minute remaining to close out the scoring and pull the Quakers within 13 points at the break.
A quick glance at the halftime box shows that the Aggies should be winning this game by a much wider margin. TAMU is shooting 48.1 percent from the field (compared to Penn's icy 29.6 percent clip) and holds a 21-10 advantage on the glass. But the Quakers have limited their turnovers (five) and controlled the tempo to keep the deficit negotiable.
The Aggies didn't really wear down the Quakers as much as they could have -- so I don't see Penn getting too tired during the second half. All the Ivy champs would need to put a scare into TAMU is a hot hand. Will they get one? (Mark Zoller?)
The Aggies have ripped off a 10-2 run over the last four minutes to double up the Quakers, 26-13, with 4:03 remaining in the half.
Two Penn offensive lapses have led to a pair of transition lay-ups -- but when the Aggies do get the Ivy champs in the half-court situation, Texas A&M has enjoyed success pushing the ball inside to Jones and Kavaliauskas.
Meanwhile, the support around the building for either side is somewhat tepid. Penn has a lot more support than Stanford did, to be certain. But perhaps if the Quakers could make a sustained run, the West Philly school could swing a couple thousand neutral fans to their side.
Since falling behind 11-5, Penn has rallied but struggled to keep pace with Texas A&M floor general Acie Law IV. Kevin Egee and Justin Reilly put down back-to-back jumpers to close the TAMU advantage to 11-9 -- but Law's 21-footer and driving lay-up opened a 16-9 edge.
Then after Justin Reilly drained a 14-footer going into the four-minute media timeout, Law responded with another jumper to give the Aggies an 18-11 lead.
The Aggies have opened a 7-0 lead on jumpers from Dominique Kirk and a lay-up from Joseph Jones.
The Olympic motto of "Swifter, Higher, Stronger" comes to mind while considering the matchups in this one. Both teams employ a three-guard set -- where the Aggies and Quakers are comparable in size. But Penn's interior starters (6-7 Mark Zoller and 6-8 Steve Danley) will have their hands full with their TAMU counterparts (6-9 Joseph Jones and 6-10 Antanas Kavaliauskas).
In the post-game presser, Louisville's Brandon Jenkins and David Padgett -- who tied for the team high with 16 points apiece -- acknowledged but downplayed the significant home-court advantage.
"Personally it felt like Freedom Hall to me," Jenkins said. "We had a lot of fans out there, but we tried to block the fans out and just play Louisville basketball."
Said Padgett, whose seven-foot frame helped counter Stanford's Lopez twins on both ends of the court, "The further you get in the tournament, the farther away from home you're going to be, so we just wanted to focus on our opponent."
Turns out that message came out from the top.
"We try to block everything out except the style that's going to beat the opposition," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
...when you fill out your brackets a year or two from now.
As much as Stanford fans might find themselves throwing up in their mouths (or just changing the channel) at the tail end of their team's throttling at the hands of Louisville, they would be wise to keep the faith.
Eleven of this group's 12 top scorers are underclassmen -- including nine freshmen and sophomores. Star-in-waiting Lawrence Hill is a soph and twin towers Brook and Robin Lopez are finishing their first years. As bitter a pill as this one might be to swallow, tournament experience is still tournament experience. Barring the unlikely, Stanford will be back in the NCAAs next year and should contend with UCLA, Washington and Arizona for the conference championship.
If the Palestra is the Notre Dame de Paris of college basketball, Rupp Arena is the Kaaba of Mecca -- spiritually significant on a singular level but something on a grander scale altogether. Not too many buildings with this kind of sprawling history were created with the college game in mind -- but this is one of them.
Meanwhile, how does a No. 6 seed get this kind of home-court advantage? ('Ville leads, 62-36, by the way.) And I'm not just talking about the obvious proximity to campus. Stanford has no band, no cheerleaders and no discernible student section in the building. And that's not even including the Palo Alto school's most conspicuous (and coniferous) absentee...
As you can probably notice on the television or Internet broadcast, Louisville's campus is just 73 miles down I-64 and their rabid fan base has taken full advantage. Granted cardinal is easy to miss among the sea of red -- but the support for the Cardinals is overwhelming. (Probably not exactly the reception these guys get during their biennial trip here to meet Kentucky.) The last time I saw such a one-sided crowd at a so-called neutral site was when George Mason upset top-seeded Connecticut in the Washington Regional last March -- just 18 miles from Mason's campus in Fairfax, Va.
Just a thought -- no predictions here -- as I watch the Cardinals put the finishing touches on their first-half smackdown of the Farmhands. Remember two years ago when Louisville negotiated its way under the radar into the Final Four with Taquan Dean and Francisco Garcia in the backcourt and Ellis Myles and Juan Palacios (playing today) on the interior?
This year's Cardinals might not have the same caliber of offensive firepower (though you'd never know that after watching the first 18 minutes of this one), but the defense has been just as strong since New Year's Day. If you made Louisville your sleeper in your pool, it might be a little premature to start bragging -- but you should be feeling pretty good about yourself.
Never thought I'd see this much red during my first trip to hallowed Rupp Arena.
The first-round meeting between No. 6-seeded Louisville and No. 11-seeded Stanford has been a track meet throughout the first 15 minutes -- between the tortoise and the hare. The Cards have been forcing the tempo in their favor and taking the drowsy-looking Cardinal behind the woodshed on the glass while jumping out to a 41-13 advantage. But with five minutes remaining in the half, Stanford still has an opportunity to make a run that would make the contest a somewhat managable endeavor at the break.
Earl Clark has been lights out for the Cards with 10 points on 4-for-5 from the floor. But defense has been the key to Louisville's explosion out of the gate -- the Big Easters have forced a dozen turnovers so far.