Louisville 78, Stanford 58
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Rick Pitino stood in front of the bench as the clock wound down, urging his players on, enjoying the moment.
For one day at least, he was king at Rupp Arena once again.
Playing the kind of relentless style that’s become a Pitino trademark, Louisville crushed Stanford 78-58 Thursday in the opening round of the South Regional.
The sixth-seeded Cardinals made themselves right at home on the floor of archrival Kentucky, a place Pitino—who led the Wildcats to a national title 11 years ago—still holds dear.
“It’s tough coming in here,” Pitino admitted. “(But) it was much different coming in here this time around and feeling like Darth Vader the other times.”
Louisville (24-9) dominated from the opening tip in front of a highly partisan crowd that temporarily turned normally blue Rupp Arena into a sea of red. The Cardinals will play Texas A&M in the second round on Saturday. The Aggies beat Pennsylvania 68-52.
“We try to block everything out except the style that is going to beat the opposition,” Pitino said.
That style looked awful familiar to the one Pitino implemented while resurrecting the Wildcats nearly 20 years ago. The Cardinals forced 11th-seeded Stanford (18-13) into 21 turnovers and never let up.
“The message before the game was, ‘We have got to take more chances in the NCAA,”’ Pitino said. “I said some teams come out tight. You can’t be that way … get out there and be risk takers.”
Stanford had to travel more than 2,400 miles across the country and was playing at 9:30 a.m. PDT. The Cardinal never found its footing against Louisville’s aggressive full-court pressure that harassed the Cardinal all game long.
“Full-court pressure was not something we’ve seen in games, but we’ve worked on it in practice,” said Stanford guard Anthony Goods. “We planned on attacking it, but we got out there and started thinking too much. We started playing to their advantage when we started thinking and they forced some turnovers.”
Edgar Sosa and David Padgett scored 16 points each for Louisville. Freshmen forwards Earl Clark and Derrick Caracter added 12 points apiece and freshman guard Jerry Smith scored 10 as Louisville’s four youngsters played with the kind of poise that helped propel Louisville to second-place in the Big East.
“We were the force today,” Sosa said.
Playing less than 80 miles from campus, Louisville roared to a 41-13 lead 15 minutes in and cruised the rest of the way.
“We wanted to turn it up defensively,” said guard Brandon Jenkins. “We just wanted to put a lot of pressure on the ball. I didn’t want to go home.”
Stanford twin brothers Robin and Brook Lopez both picked up two quick fouls, freeing up the middle for the Cardinals, who outscored Stanford in the paint 36-22 despite being at a significant size disadvantage.
Brook Lopez led Stanford with 18 points, but the Cardinal did little to validate their surprise at-large selection.
Pitino had worried about his freshmen-laden team’s ability to adjust to the pressure of the NCAA tournament, but the Cardinals hardly seemed intimidated by the stage.
“Sosa, Earl and me are from the New York area and we’re used to the big game like this,” Caracter said. “We were just being focused.”
Louisville opened the game on a 12-2 run, using full-court pressure to frustrate Stanford into careless turnovers on one end of the floor, then smartly getting open shots at the other end.
With Robin Lopez languishing on the bench after collecting his second foul just three minutes in, the Cardinals feasted on a suddenly wide-open lane.
“Their big guys really came out and were using their bodies well,” Brook Lopez said. “They were finishing strong even with contact. You have to give them all the credit for their play. They were aggressive attacking the rim.”
During one sequence, Smith sank a 3-pointer from the corner. Stanford threw a long inbounds pass over Louisville’s press, only to have the ball fall into the hands of Clark, who finished with a dunk, drawing an intentional foul in the process.
Clark made one of two free throws, and Caracter added a pair on the ensuing possession. Sosa and Smith then hit back-to-back 3-pointers as Louisville’s lead eventually ballooned to 46-20 at the half.
“Coach P told us not to hold anything back, just play basketball,” Sosa said. “We were just going hard, playing excellent defense.”