Wayne Blackshear had 19 points for the Cardinals (25-8), who will play Northern Iowa on Sunday for a trip to the Sweet 16.
Mamadou Ndiaye, the 7-foot-6 center, finished with 12 points and five rebounds for the Anteaters, but he didn’t touch the ball over the last two minutes and UC Irvine’s first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament came to a disappointing close.
Every time the sophomore, out of Senegal, touched the ball, a roar went through the crowd. And Ndiaye was a force through much of the second half. Twice, he gathered the ball in the post, palmed it like a tennis ball and slammed it through the hoop without really leaving his feet.
On the other end, he blocked one shot, altered about a dozen more and forced Louisville, a team without much outside-shooting touch, to take its chances from the perimeter.
But things changed when the Big Fella got his fourth foul with 2:26 left, and it cost UC Irvine dearly.
Trailing 55-53, Blackshear took the ball straight at Ndiaye, who didn’t contest it much, and hit a short shot over him to tie it with 42 seconds left.
On the next possession, Nelson, who came to UC Irvine from Great Britain, dribbled the clock down, but jacked up a shot from a few feet behind the 3-point line that rimmed out.
There was a scramble in the corner. Snider grabbed the ball, and in the scrum, Nelson fell into him to set up the freshman for the winning points. The Cardinals had two fouls to burn, and after using one of them, Rozier could be reckless, so he dove at Davis with the clock ticking down and made the steal to seal the win.
Snider stepped into the starting lineup when Louisville dismissed guard Chris Jones last month. Coach Rick Pitino told the Cardinals that the freshman, playing college ball in his hometown, couldn’t replace Jones all by himself.
That was true – until Friday, at least. In addition to his free throws, Snider had two key buckets down the stretch, including an 18 footer that he sank with Ndiaye running at him from the key.