Louisville looks to keep tourney hopes alive against UNI
By ANNIE MOORE
College Contributor Network
"This is the first time we've gotten exactly what we wanted. We wanted to go out West. We wanted a four seed. We wanted to stay away from Kentucky." That's what Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said on Tuesday before the team departed for Seattle. And the team's hopes planned out, getting the four seed, set to face the University of California Irvine in Seattle. And the plan, at least for the first round, worked out, they defeated the Anteaters 57-55 on Friday afternoon.
The Cards won a close game, their largest lead was seven. They had their hands full with good shooting from UCI, and the 7-foot-6 center, Mamadou Ndiaye. But big efforts from Wayne Blackshear and true freshman Quentin Snider eventually led Louisville to the Round of 32.
After a close game, the game was tied at 55, when Snider grabbed a rebound and was fouled, sending him to the free throw line with 8.9 seconds left. Snider sank both, and Terry Rozier snagged a steal to seal the win for Louisville
Snider had 16 points on the night and played 37 minutes, more than double any other freshman's minutes. Blackshear played all 40 minutes, and had 19 points and seven rebounds to lead all scorers. Louisville's other leaders were Rozier, with 12 points and Montrezl Harrell, with eight points and four rebounds. Blackshear has been inconsistent at times, and had some poor games down the stretch, receiving much criticism from the media and CardNation, but he seems dialed in now and is tuning out all of the rest.
"I don't pay attention to anything like that," Blackshear said. "As long as my teammates and the coaching staff believe in me, I don't care what other people say. So, I take it as it is and I just let my game do the talking."
While arguably Louisville's two most consistent scorers didn't have banner nights, Blackshear and Snider stepped up for a close, team win. As Louisville breathes a sigh of relief after avoiding the upset, it now looks ahead to the Round of 32 matchup against the University of Northern Iowa.
The 31-3 Panthers of UNI are going to present a depth challenge for Louisville, as they have eight players that record at least five points per game. In their win over Wyoming, UNI had five players score in double digits. The Panthers' biggest wins on the season came against Wichita State and Missouri State, both at home.
On paper, this matchup seems one sided, but Northern Iowa is far from a Cinderella Team. The five seed defeated Wyoming handily in its first game of the postseason. But some glaring differences could prove to be the deciding factors for Louisville.
First is Louisville's defense. Louisville is holding opponents to less than 60 points per game, and forcing 14.5 turnovers per game. They also average over eight blocks and five steals per game.
Another big difference, experience. Many players on Northern Iowa's roster have never played in the NCAA Tournament before, this is the team's first appearance since 2010. On the other end of the spectrum, this will be Louisville's ninth-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament,its twelfth since Rick Pitino came to Louisville in 2006. Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell were on the 2013 National Championship team, and six players on this roster went to the Sweet 16 last year with Louisville.
NCAA Tournament play is a beast unto its own, you can't duplicate the experience, the hype or the level of energy anywhere else. When the game is on the line, the crowd is on their feet, you're down two and you're thousands of miles from home, that's when the true test comes. That's a test many of these players are familiar with.
But experience isn't everything, as Snider proved in Louisville's first game. The freshman stepped to the free throw line with ice in his veins and sealed that game for Louisville.
"I didn't really think about it," Snider said. "I just got up to the line and just shot it. I just knew my team needed these points, so I just knocked them down."
That kind of confidence from the younger players will be necessary for Louisville, as the team lost a leader in Chris Jones. But young, confident players along with experienced, older players could prove to be a winning combination for Louisville.
Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports