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East Region notes: Big change in L'ville-OU match

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LOUISVILLE-OKLAHOMA

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The second-round clash between No. 3 seed Louisville and No. 6 seed Oklahoma at the East Regional will be nothing like the game that precedes it, which features Tennessee and Butler.

That game will revolve around small, quick athletes making the plays that small, quick athletes make. A cattle auction could break out during the Cardinals-Sooners matchup. These teams have some beef, and they're going to run their offense through the post at every opportunity.

For Louisville, that's 6-foot-11, 250-pound center David Padgett, a unanimous first-team All-Big East selection. He's averaging 11.7 points and 4.6 rebounds, modest numbers that don't tell the whole story of what he brings for the Cardinals.

"He's a really skilled player," Sooners coach Jeff Capel. "I think he's a very underrated passer, and his feel for the game allows Coach (Rick) Pitino and their team to run stuff through him. And it's not just on the block. They pull him away from the basket and dribble handoff or have him screen. He does such a great job of knowing when to cut, when to slip screens, when to hit guys for back-door passes. He just has a great feel for the game."

Padgett also can look up front for teammates Juan Palacios (6-8, 250), Derrick Caracter (6-8, 265) and Earl Clark (6-9, 220).

Oklahoma counters with freshman standout Blake Griffin (6-10, 243) and senior center Longar Longar (6-11, 234), who combine to average 26 points and 15 rebounds per game.

Griffin and Longar were subjected to constant double-teams by Saint Joseph's in the first round, allowing Sooners guard David Godbold to score 25 points thanks to a lot of open looks on the perimeter.

"Usually you don't double a guy that you don't think can hurt you," Capel said. "And so he (Griffin) is a guy that can hurt you. Teams have to game-plan for him. Usually that means doubling. We're interested to see if Louisville will do that."

Pitino declined to reveal his team's specific plan for dealing with Griffin.

"I'm not going to talk about it because it makes no sense for me to talk about it," Pitino said. "I would have to lie to you, and I don't believe in lying to the press.

"I will say I think he (Griffin) is tremendous, but Longar Longar is also a big problem in the low post. He's a big offensive threat as well. So you've got a double-edged sword there; it's not just one player. One player (Griffin) obviously shoots 57 percent from the field and he's one of the premier freshmen in the nation and he takes great shots."

How Louisville handles him will go a long way toward determining if the Sweet 16 is in the Cards.

BIG BEAST

Pitino was asked during Saturday's news conference to talk about the play of the Big East in the NCAA tournament thus far. He was asked shortly after No. 7 seed West Virginia had KO'd second-seeded Duke to run the league's record to 8-1.

"The Big East, I call it the Big Beast because that's what it is," Pitino said. "And the good news is the Big East was a very strong league this year as we anticipated. The bad news is it will get stronger next year because every team has just about every player back.

"It's a very competitive league comprised of tough kids and very talented teams."

Connecticut is the only Big East team to lose in the tournament thus far, and it lost star point guard A.J. Price early in the first half against San Diego.

– Bob McClellan

ARKANSAS-NORTH CAROLINA

RALEIGH, N.C. – The NCAA selection committee "rewards" top-seeded teams by allowing them to play at venues close to their campuses and fan bases.

That is certainly the case for East No. 1 North Carolina, which plays its first- and second-round games in Raleigh, then, if it beats No. 9 Arkansas on Sunday, earns a trip to Charlotte for the Sweet 16.

But Tar Heels coach Roy Williams scoffs at the notion that playing close to home equates to a free pass for the top dogs.

He has anecdotal evidence to back up his claim.

"You still have got to play the games," Williams said Saturday, when asked about UNC's 22-1 record in NCAA contests played in North Carolina. "At Kansas, all I heard in 1995 was, 'Oh gosh, if you can just win two games you can get back to Kansas City.' We won two games and got back to Kansas City. Well, I know a little bit about geography. The University of Virginia is nowhere fricking close to Kansas City. They beat our ass. That building didn't help us win, those fans didn't help us win.

"Our team still has to play."

– Gerry Ahern

NO. 4 WASHINGTON STATE 61, NO. 5 NOTRE DAME 41

DENVER – Luke Harangody made his feelings known during the game – he felt he was bumped several times around the basket with no calls to show for it.

The officiating was loose in Washington State's 61-41 second-round victory over Notre Dame, with contact allowed inside on both ends of the floor.

Ultimately, to Harangody's credit, he did not continue complaining at the podium afterward.

"We faced a great Washington State team tonight," Harangody said. "Not much we can say about that. The feeling right now is disappointment, obviously, with myself, with my performance. I kind of feel like I let the guys down. You know, just wasn't my night."

Harangody finished with 10 points and a whopping 22 rebounds, but he missed 14 of 17 shots. Despite bulling his way inside several times, he earned just four trips to the line, making all four.

Washington State guarded Harangody mostly with center Aron Baynes, with help from Robbie Cowgill.

COMEBACK KID

Notre Dame junior guard Kyle McAlarney was suspended after 12 games last season in light of an arrest for marijuana possession. He considered transferring but was talked into returning by coach Mike Brey.

A bigger, stronger McAlarney has been a key for Notre Dame this season, averaging 15.2 points entering Saturday's game. He still remembers watching the Irish in the tournament a year ago, when they fell in the first round to Winthrop.

"It was very hard," said McAlarney, whose story was told Saturday on CBS' pregame show in after-school special style, complete with somber piano music. "It was very tough to watch this team, you know, get bounced out in the first round knowing that, if I was there, I could have helped them out a lot. It was tough. It was a tough time for me and my family.

"But that's all in the past. You know, it's amazing how far you can come in a year. I'm so much more of a better person and a better teammate. And I hope my teammates realize that."

McAlarney scored a team-high 12 points Saturday against Washington State, but he did it on 5-of-13 shooting. He came away impressed with the Cougars and their future chances.

"They could go all the way," he said. "The way they played us tonight, you know, just shows it. We were one of the best offensive teams in the country coming into this tournament. … I feel they can go all the way, and I know we'll be rooting for them."

SWEET LOW

Washington State senior guard Derrick Low was a key figure in the Cougars' victory. He kept the offense humming with a game-high 18 points, hitting six of 15 shots. He also did a nice job containing Notre Dame's ultra-quick sophomore point guard, Tory Jackson. Jackson had seven points on 2-of-7 shooting.

"When Derrick is aggressive, that helps us," Tony Bennett said. "I tell you what, I was so impressed with Derrick, that's the best I've seen him defensively, active with his hands, digging out loose balls."

Low is the key recruit so far of Bennett's tenure, coming to Washington State from Hawaii without visiting.

"He didn't care about the surroundings," Bennett said. "He said, 'I'll commit.' We said, 'Hey, if you come here, hate it on your visit, we'll let you out of your commitment.' We took him to the finest beaches in Pullman, so everything was OK."

– Joe Rexrode

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