CRAWFORD | Pitino pleased to be headed west as a No. 4 seed in t - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Pitino pleased to be headed west as a No. 4 seed in the East

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AP photo. AP photo.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — There have been plenty of years when Selection Sunday brought frustration for the University of Louisville basketball team and coach Rick Pitino.

This year, it's just the opposite. Pitino is pleased to see his team heading to Seattle as a No. 4 seed for a first-round matchup against UC Irvine on Friday at about 4 p.m. on TBS. The winner gets the winner of No. 5 Northern Iowa and No. 11 Wyoming on Sunday.

U of L actually is in the East Region, and would advance to Syracuse, N.Y., if it made the Sweet 16, and a potential matchup with a familiar group of Wildcats seeded No. 1 in the region. No, not those, but Villanova. But that's a long way away.

Two weeks ago, after a win at Florida State when a reporter mistakenly asked Pitino if he thought his team would enjoy playing at home in the tournament (it can't, by rule), Pitino pointed out the error and said, “We'll be out in the Pacific somewhere.”

Whether by prophecy or wishful thinking, Pitino was right.

“We're real happy about being out in Seattle,” Pitino told ESPN Radio after the selection. “We wanted to get away. . . . This team needs to get away from family and friends. They were distracted at home with all the fanfare. It's good that we're away. We're excited about it.”

Pitino said he doesn't yet know much about UC Irvine, but that the Anteaters were one of five teams his coaching staff targeted as potential first-round opponents, so the Cards are ready with game video and the players were heading back to the dorm after a private selection day party with a booster group to review tape.

UC Irvine (21-12, 11-5) won its first Big West Tournament championship by beating Hawaii 67-68 on Friday. Will Davis II leads the team in scoring with 13 points per game, but the Anteaters are better known for having Mamadou Ndiaye, who at 7-6 and 300 pounds, is the tallest player in college basketball. He's averaging 10.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Like Louisville's Gorgui Dieng, he's a native of Senegal who has been a fast study at the game.

Pitino, while disappointed at his team's quick exit from the ACC Tournament, said the extra practice this week has been a blessing for his team. With the school on spring break, the Cardinals have been able to go double-sessions. He told ESPN Radio that he has tinkered with smaller lineups, though that might not be something he tries with a 7-6 center patrolling the baseline.

“We needed practice because when Chris Jones went out, we really had to change a lot of things around to get ready,” he said. “There was a blessing in losing. We got to go double sessions each day, get some guys ready, mix some small lineups in there. We'll go double-sessions tomorrow. In the morning we'll go through all the out-of-bounds plays by Irvine, all the special situations. Then in the afternoon we'll go through a regular practice. Then we'll leave on Wednesday. most teams will leave on Tuesday, but we'll leave on Wednesday.”

Northern Iowa the No. 5 seed, is a dangerous team in its own right. But Pitino isn't worrying about that at the moment. He's happy to be heading West. And hoping to come back East with some momentum.

I'm not in the team's meetings. I haven't spoken with Pitino. But you can bet, he's pitching this draw as new life for his team. He's telling them he's gone West with success before. He's telling them they have a chance to come home a different team. And he's one of the best in the game at getting players to believe it.

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