ORLANDO, Fla. – The ball boy nearly burned all the brackets.
The Manhattan Jaspers, with their starting five of New Yorkers coached by a former ball boy and assistant to Rick Pitino, came within a whisper of upending the defending champs and throwing March Madness into complete chaos.
Steve Masiello, who played for Pitino at Kentucky, worked for him with the Knicks, and coached under him at Louisville, used the master's teachings to lead his team to a late second-half lead before the Cardinals' poise and talent overcame the 13th-seeded upstarts, 71-64.
The entire game was like watching an intense Louisville intrasquad scrimmage, as the Jaspers frustrated the Cardinals with their own strategies and style. Masiello is proud of what he's learned under Pitino – so much so that he's basically borrowed the whole playbook for himself.
Pitino was expecting a battle far more difficult than the many college basketball fans (including President Obama) who have fourth-seeded Louisville skating easily into the Final Four. Several days of national hand-wringing over the Cards' seed quickly seemed silly as Pitino's group stared at an upset loss.
In the end, though, it was Cool Hand Luke Hancock with some clutch outside shooting to make the difference. His 16 points, including eight straight in the last minutes and a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line, combined with 18 from Russ Smith to close the deal – just as it did in last season's run to the national title in Atlanta.
Pitino is used to the mimicry by now. He has five former assistants in this year's NCAA tournament. One of them, Florida's Billy Donovan, led his team to a round of 64 win here on Thursday.
Both Pitino and Donovan will be coaching again Saturday in the Amway Center, though not against each other. Florida faces Pittsburgh, while Louisville meets St. Louis.
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