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    Blackshear Powers Louisville Basketball Over UC Irvine 57-55
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    The University of Louisville Cardinals went to the NCAA tournament as a solid number 4 seed in the East regional. So, of course, the NCAA basketball gods sent the Cards west to Seattle to take on the University of California-Irvine Anteaters. Louisville gutted out a 57-55 win.

    UC Irvine is the tallest team Louisville has faced this season, including a 7 foot 6 inch center named Mamadou Ndiaye that Cardinal Montrezl Harrell dunked on twice in the first four minutes. At the same time, the Anteaters enjoyed shooting from outside and hit threes with dead eye accuracy. Neither team seemed afraid of the other.

    In this years tournament 14 seeds saw much success against 3 seeds. Both UC Irvine and Louisville had to be acutely aware of the potential upset. It’s how UCLA, UAB and Georgia State continue to dance. When you see Baylor, SMU and Iowa State getting the early exit, the Anteaters saw their chance.

    The Louisville centers had tons of trouble with Ndiaye. He is bigger and heavier than anyone on the Cardinal squad. Coach Rick Pitino went with the 3 headed monster of Mangok Mathiang, Chinanu Onuaku and Anas Mahmoud to guard him. Harrell provided help but it was clear that it wasn’t his main defensive assignment. That would keep the junior out of foul trouble.

    As per usual, the first half wouldn’t be a high scoring affair. The Cardinal defense kept the Anteaters in check and the sputtering Louisville offense kept them off the scoreboard, too. The halftime score: 30-28. Wayne Blackshear led the way with 9 points and 5 rebounds. To play better, Pitino said that Harrell had to get on the glass.

    Coming out for the second half, and knowing they’d have to deal with Ndiaye in the middle, none of the 5 men were in foul trouble so they could play him tighter. Not that he was setting the arena on fire. He only scored 4 points and pulled down 2 rebounds. But as a force inside, a lot of the Cardinal defense was designed to stop him in the paint.

    Even though Louisville wore the home whites, and have the Peyton Siva connection, Key Arena was solidly for UC Irvine. Some of that was due to the proximity. It’s easier to travel to the Pacific Northwest from California than from Kentucky.  But there had to be some in the crowd that wanted to see an upset. It’s part of what this time of year is all about.

    Onuaku had to sit early in the second half with an injury that had him limping gingerly toward the bench. He would not return. In his stead, Mathiang played respectable defense in the middle. UCI wanted to attack inside at times, but kept a decent balance on the wings as well. That was their strength. They came into the game with more scorers than the Cards.

    Blackshear took over the Louisville offense in the final minutes, including a couple of shots around the Sudanese nightmare. One drive drew a foul and the other should have. It was like he wasn’t ready to play his last game in a Cardinal uniform. He finished with 19 points and 7 rebounds.

    The senior wasn’t the only star. Quentin Snider had his best game of the season. It couldn’t have happened at a better time. He hit two free throws to seal the win which gave him 16 for the game to go with 5 rebounds. Terry Rozier hit for 12 and Harrell had 8.

    The Cards get Northern Iowa on Sunday back in Seattle at the Key Arena for the Round of 32.

    Photo by: Tim Girton/Louisville.com

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    About Tim Girton

    Tim Girton writes about University of Louisville sports here at Louisville.com and his love for Louisville continues on his photoblog, called This Is Louisville.

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