No. 1 Louisville Uses Big Second Half to Down Morehead State
March 20, 2009
DAYTON, Ohio (AP) - Go ahead, Louisville. Dance away for yet another day.
The NCAA tournament's top team pulled off a few dance moves at midcourt during warmups Friday, then stumbled through a few early missteps. Louisville's full-court press - the thing that makes the Cardinals so dangerous - took over in the second half, setting up a 74-54 victory over Morehead State that completed 25 years of perfection by No. 1 seeds.
Louisville (29-5) will play either eighth-seeded Ohio State or No. 9 Siena in the second round on Sunday in the Midwest Regional.
With the win, No. 1 seeds improved to 100-0 against No. 16s since the tournament expanded in 1985. There have been a few close calls, and Morehead State (21-16) kept up for a half.
Then, history set in.
"Teams see you as a No. 1 seed, they're going to bring more intensity to you," said Andre McGee, who had five steals at the apex of the press. "That's what makes the tournament so special. Any team can beat another team, regardless of name or ranking."
Not during those 100 games, when the top team has tottered but never toppled. The Eagles know why No. 100 went down the way it did.
"It was a typical Louisville-type performance," Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall said. "What they try to do is wear you down and wear you down. Unfortunately, we ran into arguably the best team in college basketball tonight."
Samardo Samuels led Louisville with 15 points. Terrence Williams, who danced at midcourt before the game, added 13 points and nine rebounds. Kenneth Faried had 14 points and 11 rebounds for Morehead State.
The University of Dayton Arena became a pressure cooker for two No. 1 seeds from the Big East on Friday. Pittsburgh, the top seed in the East Regional, had the worst of it, unable to shake East Tennessee State until the final minutes of a 72-62 win.
An hour later, the Cardinals took the floor in a mood to party. By halftime, they had that upset feeling in the Pitt of their stomachs.
Williams extended his long, tattoo-covered arms and boogied at midcourt when the Morehead State pep band played "We Got The Funk" during pregame warmups, an indication that the tournament's top team - one with two titles already on its resume - was in the mood for some celebrating.
The Cardinals went to their full-court press right away and forced turnovers to forge a 17-7 lead. The Eagles looked overmatched against a team that was once their equal, back in the days when they played two or three times a year while basketball took root in the bluegrass state. The Cardinals haven't lost to the Eagles in the last 52 years, winning the last 13 games, most of them by huge margins.
Instead of fading, Morehead State returned to its staples - solid defense and rebounding - to make it a game. Maze Stallworth, who grew up 20 minutes from Freedom Hall but didn't get a recruiting call from the Cardinals, hit back-to-back 3s that evened it up and set up a little more 1-vs.-16 drama.
"Louisville is (just) another basketball team to us," said Leon Buchanan, who scored 17 points. "We went out there and from the get-go we said we're going to give it our best shot. We didn't feel we had any pressure on us. At halftime, we were feeling really good."
By halftime, the Big East's regular-season and conference champs knew the score - leading only 35-33. None of them even spoke or cracked a smile during warmups for the second half.
The dancing was done. Time to get serious.
Williams took only three shots in the first half and had three points, one of the reasons the Cardinals couldn't pull away. He had a pair of jumpers and a 3-pointer during a 22-6 run that opened the second half and set the Cardinals on course for the second round.
The full-court press that had lost its sting in the first half was back with a bite, forcing errant passes and rushed shots. Morehead State finished with 20 turnovers.
"Against a good team, a pressing team really gets their dividends in the second half," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "We've done that quite a bit. This is nothing abnormal."
The two Kentucky teams played an almost identical game last Nov. 22 at Freedom Hall, with Morehead State trailing by nine points at halftime before wearing down and losing by 38.
Despite the loss, it was an upbeat tournament trip for the Eagles, who hadn't reached it in 25 years. They beat Alabama State on Tuesday in the opener, playing their way into a first-round rematch with the team that's only 141 miles of interstate away.