As the number overall seed, the University of Louisville basketball Cardinals entered what is normally the lion's den of Lexington's Rupp Arena to play their first NCAA Tournament game against the North Carolina A&T Aggies. Junior center Gorgui Dieng started the scoring early and the rout was on from there with the Cards winning big, 79-48.
Big Blue Nation didn't seem to mind the onslaught of red in the house. If you think about it, it's the return of a favor from last year. The Kentucky Wildcats began their 2012 championship run at the Ville's KFC Yum! Center.
The other number one seed Gonzaga had trouble in their game, narrowly defeating Southern University. Louisville cruised. North Carolina A&T played their way into this game by beating Liberty on Tuesday night. It was the first NCAA tourney win in the school's history. Unfortunately their reward for that was a Louisville team that's peaking at exactly the right time.
The Cards fans shut down the naysayers by traveling en masse to Lexington to support their squad. The played offense and defense in a balanced fashion. The Aggies had trouble on both ends while the Cardinal defense created it's offense. Coach Rick Pitino publicly said wanted 15 steals. They came away with 20.
67% from the field shooting in the first half was a surprise statistic for Louisville. The 16 point halftime lead was not. At 47-31, the Cards were firmly in control.
There was some trouble with moisture on the floor at Rupp Arena which must be addressed for the rest of the weekend. Lots of slipping could be attributed to the changing weather due to warm days earlier this week and below freezing temps at game time.
Louisville called off the full court press early in the second half so as not to embarrass the Aggies any more than was already going to happen. Subs Tim Henderson and Zach Price entered the game earlier than normal. That gives them tournament experience as well as getting them game ready for larger roles on next years team.
Russ Smith led all scorers with 23 points and 7 of those aforementioned steals. Wayne Blackshear had a good game with 12 points though the three point shot wasn’t his friend. The same goes for all the Cardinal players as the team shot 25% from behind the arc. That stat brought the overall shooting percentage down, but 44 points in the paint makes up for it.
Senior point guard Peyton Siva dished 8 assists and had 5 steals of his own as he guided the Cards to the decisive victory. In all the pre-game press, he let everyone know that his team didn’t take North Carolina A&T lightly and his play, as well as the rest of his teammates, shows that wasn’t just lip service.
The Cards get the winner of the Colorado State vs. Missouri game on Saturday at Rupp Arena. Game time has yet to be determined.