UC Irvine gave Louisville all it could handle, but a clutch steal from guard Terry Rozier in the game’s final seconds sent the Cardinals into the Round of 32 and squelched the Anteaters’ chance at an upset.
Behind strong two-way efforts from senior forward Will Davis II and mammoth 7-foot-6 sophomore center Mamadou Ndiaye, the 13th-seeded Anteaters played within striking distance of the Cardinals for 40 minutes. In fact, UCI took a brief 55-53 lead with 1:02 to go and had a chance to win or force overtime with nine seconds on the clock.
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Fortunately for Rick Pitino, his fourth-seeded Cardinals had two fouls to give, using one with six seconds to go to limit UCI’s time to get a shot off. When UCI finally got the ball in play near midcourt to guard Alex Young, Rozier cut off his path and knocked the ball away. Time expired as Young scrambled for the ball and the Cardinals were finally able to exhale with a 57-55 win.
It appeared that Rozier may have been looking to foul and figured he might as well go for a steal. The team still had a foul to give, so the Anteaters would not have been awarded any free throws if Rozier fouled Young instead.
Was it a foul, or was it clean? Even if a foul had been called, UCI would have been inbounding with about three seconds left on the clock, making it pretty difficult to get a good look at the basket.
Louisville is always a team that relies on its defense and forcing 14 UCI turnovers helped the Cardinals hold a lead for most of the game. Wayne Blackshear led Louisville with 19 points and seven boards while freshman Quentin Snider added 16 – including two clutch free throws that gave the team the lead with nine seconds to go.
For UCI it was the behemoth Ndiaye that impacted the game on both ends. He had only five rebounds and one block, but he affected nearly every interior drive Louisville attempted while also chipping in 12 points. His presence was a big challenge for the Cardinals, a team not particularly known for its outside shooting (especially since the dismissal of Chris Jones).
Nonetheless, the Cardinals were able to survive and move into the Round of 32. Next up for the Cards is a showdown with No. 5 seed Northern Iowa, which handled No. 12 Wyoming 71-54 earlier on Friday.
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