CRAWFORD | Louisville's McDonnell says his players should 'be greedy' entering NCAA
With his team heading into the NCAA Tournament having lost four of its past five, University of Louisville coach Dan McDonnell says it needs to do the little things to get back on the right side of the "fine line between winning and losing."
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville has played host to five straight NCAA regionals and seven in the past nine years, but fewer have probably been announced with as little reaction – and perhaps as much apprehension, at least within the fan base – as the one announced on Monday.
The Cardinals, for the third consecutive year and fourth time overall, were named a national seed, meaning that if they win their regional this week, they would host a super-regional next week.
“We were kind of mellow,” junior Devin Hairston said of the team’s reaction to being named the No. 7 overall seed. “It is a celebration. We’re happy that we get to continue playing with each other. But we don’t try to get too high, and we don’t try to get too low. We just try to stay on an even keel.”
Even-keel would be welcome, after losses in four of their past five games at the end of a season in which they spent considerable time ranked No. 1 or 2 nationally. Cardinals’ coach Dan McDonnell said he didn’t know how to react to dropping to No. 7. He did say that he wants to see his team embrace the opportunity it has earned.
After Louisville lost to eventual ACC Tournament champion Florida State in pool play last week, junior Brendan McKay wondered whether some players weren’t preoccupied with the upcoming Major League draft. The Cards have plenty of prospects. On Monday, he didn’t want to elaborate, and said he was just throwing it out there as something that might’ve thrown the team out of whack.
McDonnell said any number of things could be the reason his team hasn’t played as well the past two weeks – including the competition, three games against an NCAA regional host and league tournament champion (Florida State) and another against a No. 2 seed in the tournament (Indiana).
“It’s what we call the fine line between winning and losing,” McDonnell said. “You’ve got to do the little things. You’ve got to throw strikes. You’ve got to make routine pays. You’ve got to get a timely hit. And sometimes the other team just plays better than you and you’ve just got to learn to tip your hat and move on.”
One thing he isn’t interested in hearing is whether the draft has the minds of some players elsewhere.
“It’s something that I’ve grown accustomed to,” he said. ”Hey, if you’re going to play at the University of Louisville, guess what? You’re going to deal with the draft, and you’re going to deal with playing in the NCAAs. And if that’s too much for you, then you can go somewhere else. But that’s why they come. I tell these guys to be greedy, want it all, have it all. You just hope that –and I think Brendan’s done a really good job, and he’s not the only one – you just hope by the time you’ve a junior, you saw, your freshman year you saw players go through it, your sophomore year you saw them go through it, so by the time it’s your draft year, I’ve learned from other players ahead of me, whether good or bad, guys who handled it great or some who might have gotten to stressed out and too worked up about it.”
McDonnell added that he's confident that’s not a problem with his current players.
“It’s a high self-esteem group,” he said. “We’ve talked about no-judgment. We’ve talked about not letting others determine who you are, so when that one club selects you, be excited, and, like coach (Rick) Pitino says, prove them right, whenever you’re selected, by whatever team. But you know how much they love each other here and how committed they are to each other. I told them that the other day how much I trust them and how consistent they’ve been all year, and I’m confident that they’ll be focused and ready to go this weekend.”
Many of Louisville's of the players used the past few days to get away from the game a little bit. McKay went to the movies. Devin Hairston said he hung out with teammates and played cards. Both said the team is in a good emotional state despite the recent struggles. They have some reason. They’ve bounced back from conference tournament losses to win regionals the past three seasons.
“We just need to have fun when we’re out there playing,” Hairston said. “Just live in the moment. That’s really all it is. Throughout the course of the season, there are going to be some hiccups. But we’re not worried or stressed or pressing or anything. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play again.”
More than one player said the team needed to take the field with more energy. McDonnell said Sunday’s practice was good, and that the team’s attitude remains excellent.
Its health isn’t the best, but the Cards appear to be mending. Catcher Colby Fitch has been hurt, but did play in a scrimmage Sunday and is expected to be 100 percent. Colin Lyman had to leave Friday’s ACC Tournament game after diving for a ball in right field, but did play defensively in Sunday’s scrimmage.
“We just have to bring energy and focus to every game,” Drew Ellis said. “I think that’s what hurt us. But like I said, it’s baseball. It happens. Losing happens. Winning happens. I’m thankful we won the number of games that we did. But like I said, we’re going to get back on the right track this week and hopefully take care of business Friday.”
The Cards will face Radford (27-30) on Friday at 6 p.m. Should they win that, they’ll get the winner of Friday’s early matchup between Oklahoma (34-22) and Xavier (32-25) at 2 p.m.
All-session tickets for the 2017 NCAA Regional in Louisville can be purchased online at GoCards.com. Tickets will also be available for purchase by phone (502-GO-CARDS) or in person through the Louisville Cardinals Ticket Office at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium starting Tuesday at 9 a.m., ET. All-session tickets for the four-team, double-elimination regional are $70 for reserved chairback seats and $45 for college students (with ID).
Fans are encouraged to purchase and pick up tickets in advance or print their tickets at home to avoid long will call lines on game day. Tickets can be picked up at the Louisville Cardinals Ticket Office, located at Gate 2 of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. No tickets will be mailed. Single session tickets, including reserved chairback and general admission berm seating, will go on sale Thursday, June 1 at 9 a.m., ET online at GoCards.com or at the Papa John's Cardinal Stadium Ticket Office. Tickets will also be available at Jim Patterson Stadium starting on Friday, June 2 at noon ET.
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