12:30 PM ET, March 15, 2007
Rupp Arena, Lexington, Kentucky
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- The scene was vaguely familiar: Rick Pitino strolling the floor at Rupp Arena, a few hundred fans rapturously watching his team practice.The team's colors, however, were different. The only blue on the floor was the giant 'UK' symbol at half court. Instead, Louisville players dressed in white-and-red heeded Pitino's every barked command as the sixth-seeded Cardinals (23-9) prepared for Thursday's first round NCAA tournament game against 11th-seeded Stanford (18-12).The former Kentucky coach, who led the Wildcats to the national championship in 1996, looked pretty comfortable standing in front of the home bench, even if he knows he's now considered the enemy.The look, Pitino said, can be deceiving. Now in his sixth season working 79 miles down the road from the program he helped return to glory, Pitino admits he doesn't look forward to coming back to the place where he cemented his legacy as one of college basketball's best coaches."I don't enjoy being a villain in my own house where I spent eight years," Pitino said. "I don't like it. It's an uncomfortable feeling."It's a feeling shared by his players, though for different reasons. The last time the Cardinals sat in a locker room buried deep inside Rupp, they were reeling from a 73-61 loss to their archrival in December 2005. The defeat started a tailspin that didn't end until the Cardinals fell from fourth in the country to all the way out of the rankings before landing in the NIT.It's a memory the Cardinals have carried with them this season, keeping them honest even as they re-emerged from a long swoon to finish second in the Big East."Last year we had to take the hard route," Louisville forward Terrence Williams said. "This year, it's been more of an easy route."It's a route that's seen Louisville win in some unlikely places, including Marquette and Pittsburgh. And while on the surface the Cardinals would seem to have the advantage, the players know there's plenty of Kentucky fans out there aching for a chance to root against the Cardinals."A lot of people say, 'What if the UK fans come and they buy all the tickets and boo you guys," Williams said. "I wouldn't call it a home game, even though it's half of a home game."That's half a home game more than it'll be for Stanford, a surprise at-large selection after losing four of their last five, including a double-overtime loss to USC in the opening round of the Pac-10 tournament.While the Cardinal managed to make it back to the tournament for the 13th time in 14 seasons, the selection committee didn't do Stanford any favors.Playing halfway across the country, early in the day against a team that could have a decided home-court advantage hardly seems like a prize for a team that knocked off five ranked teams this season.Then again, the Cardinal have gotten used to being overlooked. They were one of the last at-large seeds revealed when the brackets were announced Sunday. They had almost resigned themselves to the fact their bubble might have burst when guard Anthony Goods injured his ankle last month, which started their late-season free fall."It was pretty tough being the last team picked," forward Fred Washington said. "It hurts your confidence a little bit. But we stayed positive."Goods, who played in the loss to USC, said he's "100 percent" now. And the Cardinal -- who traveled east of the Rocky Mountains just three times all season -- practiced early on Wednesday to help adjust to the time difference. They're banking on adrenaline to take care of the rest."This is the NCAA tournament -- it's not hard to get up for it no matter where you're playing," Stanford forward Brook Lopez said. "We're playing Louisville in Kentucky, the only thing is we're hoping some Kentucky supporters (will be) going for the team playing Louisville. But having it against Louisville just makes it that much more fun."Pitino is quick to point out any home-court advantage could be negated by a lack of experience. Only two contributors -- forward Juan Palacios and guard Brandon Jenkins -- played extensively when the Cardinals made it to the 2005 Final Four. This team is "emotionally inexperienced," according to its coach, which might not be a bad thing. They'll be too busy worrying about playing in the NCAAs to focus on where they're playing."We know it's going to be loud one way or the other, but we're just going to try and block it out," guard Edgar Sosa said. "We're just going to listen to coach and what he says. He won a lot of games here, so we've just got to listen to him."
|Avg Points Allowed||66.8||62.9|
|» Mar 15, 2007||@LOU 78, STAN 58||Recap|