LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- Rick Pitino stood outside the University of Louisville locker room after his team had stolen everything but No. 16-seed North Carolina A&T's jerseys in a 79-48 first-round romp in the second round of the NCAA's Midwest Regional Thursday night.
Inside the locker room, players were joking. They were giving Chane Behanan a hard time over a missed dunk. Stephan Van Treese was arguing with Mike Marra that he did not foul an Aggies player on a blocked shot. Kevin Ware was explaining why he was wearing a Green Bay Packers hat.
And Pitino was a bit surprised.
"We set a goal of 35 deflections a game," he told me. "Tonight our backcourt alone had 32. We had 66 as a team."
Three games ago, U of L recorded a previous record number of 58 in the big East Tournament opener against Villanova.
Think about that for a second. It means that 66 times North Carolina A&T wanted to throw a pass somewhere, and a U of L player got a hand on it. (Later, going over the charts kept by student managers, U of L assistant coaches said the actual number of deflections added up to 75). Regardless of the number, it was a defense of incredible disruption.
The result was a record performance. U of L came up with 20 steals, a single-game NCAA Tournament record. One of the teams that held the old record of 19 was Pitino's 1987 Providence Final Four team.
Inside the locker room, Luke Hancock was the one dishing out the reality
"We were really active and really good in our press," Hancock said. "But we weren't good in the half-court. We didn't sit down in our stance, and we kind of came out of our sets. We can do a lot of things better."
One of those things, apparently, is dunk. Behanan missed a breakaway in the first half. After the game, it was still the talk of the locker room.
"Not Top 10," Kevin Ware said. "No. 1 play on the Not Top Ten, no doubt."
Behanan said teammates weren't giving him too hard a time to his face, "because I've dunked on all of them."
All North Carolina coach Cy Alexander could do was take notes. Literally.
"I'm going to study the tape quite a bit this summer to learn from it," he said. "We both have the same defensive philosophies as far as pressure and traps and things of this nature, and maybe we can implement some of the things that caused us problems."
There was some eye-popping stuff from the Cardinals. They allowed only one field goal in the game's first 10 minutes. They didn't allow North Carolina A&T to grab a rebound for the game's first 7 1/2 minutes.
But the single brightest spot for Pitino was the play of Russ Smith. He had 23 points and tied an NCAA Tournament record with 8 steals in just 25 minutes played. But it was more than that. Over the past couple of weeks, Pitino said, Smith has become a sponge in the video room, studying opponents on video like he never has.
"Russ, who listened very intently to the scouting report, was 10 for 16, didn't take a bad shot, had three assists, eight steals, but came up lame without a rebound," Pitino said, with reporters laughing at the rebound line. "So we're very disappointed in that. We're going to do drills in the ballroom with Russ rebounding tonight, but both Russ and Peyton Siva had a great game and Russ is a really special player. He said he was like a blender tonight, just moved around and move around."
The Cardinals were aware that No. 1 seed Gonzaga was being pushed to the final minutes against No. 16 seed Southern before they took the court. But Smith said that wasn't necessarily a wake-up call, because no wake-up call was needed. He added that the team wasn't trying to "make a statement."
"Not really, to be for real," Smith said. "I was just more so just looking at who we're going to play and getting ready to suit up, and that's the big thing. And now, the second half of the season, the coach has been on me about scouting reports, and that's the only thing I was waiting for was the scouting report, what do I have to do to contribute to the team. What's the team goals? What do we have to do to get to the next round? That's it."
The locker room was buzzing, Everybody seemed to have a game memory. Van Treese had back-to-back dunks, including an impressive follow slam. Siva sat in a corner, having played his usual effective floor game.
"It's just one game," Siva said "We know we've got to go to work."
Those were the last words Pitino said as he sent the team back out to the court to watch the first half of Missouri-Colorado State, a game won by a CSU team that is the No. 1 rebounding team in the nation and ranks No. 11 nationally in fewest turnovers.
"It's just one game against a trapping, running team, and, you know, we came in here last time and blew the doors off of Stanford and lost to Texas A&M a few years back," Pitino said. " It's only one game. We'll put it behind us."
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