Louisville 76, Georgia Tech 54
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—The Louisville Cardinals are done whining about their seeding. They’re making all their arguments on the floor.
Francisco Garcia scored 18 of his 21 points in the first half and Taquan Dean halted Georgia Tech’s last hope with a flurry of 3-pointers, sealing a 76-54 victory that sent Louisville to the regional semifinals for the first time since 1997.
“I don’t want to tick anybody off, but somebody told me this is a four seed, you’re nuts. You’re absolutely nuts,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. “They’re as good as anybody we’ve played this year.”
Dean finished with 14 points, all but two on 3-pointers, and Larry O’Bannon added 16 for Louisville (31-4). The Cardinals never trailed and led by as many as 23 points, and their stifling 2-3 zone limited last year’s NCAA title runner-ups to less than 38 percent shooting.
Luke Schenscher (13) and Jarrett Jack (11) were the only Yellow Jackets in double figures, and B.J. Elder was held to just three points on five shots.
As the final seconds ticked down, the thousands of Cardinals fans who were lining up Saturday night to buy leftover tickets started chanting “Sweet 16! Sweet 16!” Garcia was beaming as he came out of the game and hugged coach Rick Pitino, who improved to 29-9 in 11 NCAA tournament appearances.
“By far it was our best performance of the year,” said Ellis Myles, who had nine points and eight rebounds. “Defensively, we dominated. We got out of the gate hot and we never let them get back into it. That’s what you have to do in this tournament.”
The Cardinals thought they’d locked up a top seed or at least a No. 2 after beating Memphis to win the Conference USA tournament, and they made no secret of their disgust when they didn’t get one. Worse, they drew the fourth seed in the Albuquerque Regional, behind lightly regarded Washington, Wake Forest and Gonzaga.
Well, Wake and the ‘Zags are done now, relegated to their couches for the rest of the tournament. And Louisville can prove it really did deserve that top seed, playing Washington in the regional semifinals next weekend.
“A four seed, I don’t buy it. That’s OK. We never focused in on it. We never talked about it again,” Pitino said. “We’ve done our job and now we’re in the Sweet 16.”
Besides, if the Cardinals keep playing like this, their seed isn’t going to matter.
“Washington got a bum steer getting two No. 1s in their bracket because these guys are a No. 1,” Hewitt said. “We weren’t good enough to beat them. That’s why they’re going to move on. That’s going to be a good game next week.”
With the way Louisville was talking before the game, the Cardinals were sounding like they were the underdogs instead of fifth-seeded Georgia Tech (20-12). But that misconception ended in a hurry. They shredded Georgia Tech’s vaunted press right from the start, making their first six shots—four from 3-point range—and not missing until the game was 5 1/2 minutes old.
No one was better than Garcia. He had topped his average by halftime with 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
“I’m playing good right now but so is my teammates, too,” Garcia said. “Larry is playing great and Taquan is playing great. I’m not really focusing on how I’m playing as long as we win. Like I said yesterday, if I don’t score and we win, I’m happy.”
Even with Dean only playing seven minutes because of foul trouble, the Cardinals had a 45-30 lead at halftime. But Louisville had a big first-half lead in last year’s tournament and wound up blowing it, losing 80-70 to Xavier in the first round.
“We talked about that coming out of halftime. We didn’t ever want that feeling again,” O’Bannon said. “It’s not like we’re playing a team with a 200 RPI. We knew they were going to make a run and we just wanted to make our run.”
That’s just what they did.
Bynum and Elder hit back-to-back 3s to cut Louisville’s lead to 52-43 with 9:44 left. It was the first time Georgia Tech had been within double figures since early in the first half.
But Juan Palacios made a pair of free throws and Dean made his own pair of 3s. After Garcia and Elder traded misses from long range, Dean made another 3. Myles made a pair of free throws, and Dean capped the run with a layup. Georgia Tech never threatened again.
“In my head, I didn’t see an ending like this,” said Elder, one of the five seniors on Georgia Tech’s roster. “It happens. We came out and played hard, they just came out and played better than we did.”