Early exit or Final Four —
Well, how about another Sweet 16 for the Cardinals, a team the coach doesn't compare with his best, but refuses to give up on, either.
Terry Rozier had 25 points and seven assists, and Pitino directed the undermanned, fourth-seeded Cardinals to a 66-53 victory Sunday night over
The fifth-seeded Panthers (31-4) were a popular pick in this one, trying to recreate their 2010 victory over a different blueblood (Kansas) and make another trip to the second weekend. But Pitino's harassing, 2-3 defense made life rough on their best player, Seth Tuttle, holding him to seven shots and 14 hard-earned points.
Now, the Cardinals (26-8) find themselves in the Sweet 16 for a program-record fourth straight year, and in the free-for-all that is now the East Region, it's silly to count them out for a third trip to the Final Four since 2012. Louisville will play eighth-seeded North Carolina State on Friday in
This was the grinding affair pretty much everyone expected between two teams ranked in the nation's top 20 in defense.
Except in Rozier's case. He darted his way around the floor, finding open spots for jumpers, floaters and creating enough contact to get to the line nine times. His final numbers: eight for 13 from the field, eight of nine from the line, five rebounds and seven assists, including two sweet alley-oop passes to Montrezl Harrell that put game away.
But Louisville really won this one with defense. The Cards forced 10 turnovers and held Northern's efficient offense to 39% shooting. Pitino's decision to start 6-foot-10 center Mangok Mathiang set the tone against Tuttle, who found little room in the post.
Northern Iowa's last, best run started when Nate Buss made back-to-back shots to trim a 10-point deficit to six with 4:26 left. The Panthers got the ball on a breakaway and looked to have an easy bucket when Jeremy Morgan dropped a pass to Wes Washpun, who went unhindered to the basket. But
About a minute later, they connected again for a jam and three-point play that ended it.