Saint Louis eyes history against defending champs
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Jim Crews insists he hasn’t spent much time thinking about what it would mean for Saint Louis to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time.
The fifth-seeded Billikens (27-6) are a win away for the third straight year, and it won’t be easy making school history against defending national champion Louisville in the Midwest Region.
The fourth-seeded Cardinals (30-5) have won 13 of their last 14 games and will be trying to advance to the round of 16 for the 20th time when the teams meet Saturday.
”I don’t worry about it,” Crews said Friday when asked what it would mean to his program to get beyond the third round after losing Michigan State and Oregon at this stage the past two seasons.
”It is extremely, extremely hard to get into the NCAA tournament,” the coach added. ”We’re just going to try to do the best we can.”
The Billikens and Cardinals each held off upset bids in the second round. Saint Louis overcome a 14-point deficit over the final 5 minutes of regulation to beat 12th-seeded North Carolina State, and Louisville held its composure late in a tight game against No. 13 seed Manhattan.
Crews, who’s been part of national championship teams as a player and assistant coach at Indiana, doesn’t want to his players feel any extra pressure to take advantage this opportunity.
”College basketball should be fun. It shouldn’t be a burden of life in my opinion,” Crews said. ”We take it serious, but we’re not going to take ourselves too serious. There’s only one team that’s really not disappointed when it all ends.”
At 49-16, Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s .756 winning percentage is the second-best in the NCAA tournament among active coaches. He’s 40-6 in games in which his team is the higher seed.
He’s wary of Saint Louis, which starts five seniors. He also has respect for Crews as a coach, even though their teams have never met.
”Jim Crews is as good as it gets when you watch his team playing on film. Defensively they don’t let you run your things. … Offensively they get high percentage shots,” Pitino said. ”With one day preparation, Jim Crews type teams are nightmarish to go against.”
Five to things to know about the matchup between Louisville and Saint Louis:
DEFENDING RUSS: Pitino believes if Louisville has an advantage, it might be that Cardinals star Russ Smith is a tough defensive assignment for any opponent. And even if the Billikens are able to contain the high-scoring guard, Smith can impact the game in other ways. ”Russ makes us a better team when he passes more,” Pitino said. ”You know, we’ve got a lot of playmakers.”
WE DON’T, BUT WE CAN: Saint Louis generally is not a pressing team, however one of the keys to the Billikens getting back into their second-round game against North Carolina State was their ability to force critical mistakes down the stretch of regulation. Crews attributed its success to his players, saying most of what they did was improvised. ”You shouldn’t do things you never practice, but we were in a position we had to do that,” Crews said.
EXCUSES, EXCUSES: Pitino got a kick out of learning that forward Montrezl Harrell felt the late starting time of Louisville’s game against Manhattan might have contributed to a sluggish performance. With the St. Louis-NC State game going overtime, the Cardinals and Jaspers didn’t finish until around 1 a.m. ”This generation is the greatest excuse makers of all time. If you would watch one of our practices, they never foul. If they lose the ball, they were pushed. It’s incredible what goes on in one of our practices. But you never get upset because they’re such great guys,” Pitino said. ”I always tell them excuses are a sign of weakness, and when you make an excuse, you show weakness. (Manhattan) had to wait around, and they looked pretty good.”
TIMELY LOE: Loe’s 22-point, 15-rebound performance was his first double-double season and only the second of his career. The 6-foot-11 senior from Auckland, New Zealand was averaging 9.9 points and 5.4 rebounds going into the game. ”You can’t force your way into things,” Loe said. ”You’ve just got to let it come to you.”
MVP FOR A NIGHT: Smith, Harrell and Luke Hancock all made critical plays in the closing minutes against Manhattan, however Pitino felt point guard Chris Jones, who had a poor night shooting, was the key to Louisville’s victory. ”He may have been 2 for 11, but he was 6 for 6 from the line, five rebounds, three assists, no turnovers playing 33 minutes,” Pitino said. ”When you break down the tape, it’s the value a player is to the team.”