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2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pitino, Cards romp past Boise State


— A scramble, a steal and suddenly Louisville had a three-on-none break that Derrick Caracter finished off with a vicious dunk.

Coach Rick Pitino and his team turned this into a one-sided affair from the start, overwhelming Boise State 79-61 Friday night in the first round of the East Regional.

The third-seeded Cardinals rushed to a 10-1 lead and Caracter's slam made it 42-26 late in the first half.

"We played that hard tonight because of our respect level for Boise State. Our respect level for that team was off the charts. We were ready to play from the opening tip tonight," Pitino said.

Coming off a disappointing one-and-done performance in the Big East tournament, the Cardinals (25-8) punctuated the rout with several late jams. They next play Sunday against Oklahoma, a 72-64 winner over Saint Joseph's.

Boise State put itself on the national sports map - in football, that is - by beating Oklahoma in a triple-overtime thriller at the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. These 14th-seeded Broncos missed a chance to shock the Sooners in hoops, too.

"I think they set the tone at the beginning of the game, versus us setting the tone," Broncos coach Greg Graham said. "If they shoot the ball this well the rest of the tournament, they're going to make a deep run."

Earl Clark scored 15 points and Juan Palacios had 13 for Louisville. Leading scorer David Padgett didn't even take a shot before the break and Louisville still breezed, helped by an uncharacteristic dozen 3-pointers.

"I told the guys we were going to make a lot of 3s tonight because they're going to take away our interior. We knew the 3 was going to be there," Pitino said.

Their fans showed up, too.

Many Cardinals backers made the five-hour drive and filled in the upper deck at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, which had thousands of empty seats for the earlier games. The rooters in red were about the only ones left at the end.

Matt Nelson scored 17 for Boise State (25-9).

Star Reggie Larry, averaging nearly 20 points and MVP of the Western Athletic Conference tournament, was no factor. His first basket came with 7½ minutes left in the first half and he finished with 14 points.

The Broncos had not played in the NCAA tournament since 1994, when they also lost to Louisville, and it was evident. Their first shot wildly bonked off the backboard, their next try barely drew iron and they followed with a brick that wedged between the glass and rim.

Pitino has made a living in March by shutting down his opponent's top scorer. Larry became the latest star to fall into the trap, with Louisville letting a bunch of big bodies bang him around down low.

Now 55, Pitino paced the sidelines 25 years after first taking a team to the NCAA tournament. His black hair is streaked with gray and his suits are more expensive, but he sounded as intense as ever.

Even with a big lead in the closing minutes, his foot stomps and shouts echoed around the arena.

Pitino improved to 33-11 over 13 years in the tournament. He remains the only coach to lead three teams to the Final Four, first doing it with Providence and later winning the national championship with Kentucky.

In his earlier days, Pitino won with a fast-breaking team that often used passes inside to set up 3-pointers from the perimeter. He's gotten away from that style in recent years, though the Cardinals brought back reminders from his past with their outside shooting against Boise State.

Louisville shot 12-for-24 on 3s, and seven different players made them.

"They were just feeling it from the 3-point line," Nelson said. "We just didn't expect them to make 50 percent of their 3-point shots."

Boise State hit 40 percent of its 3s this season, putting them among the nation's top 20, but were just 4-for-17 against the aggressive Cardinals.

"We did a good job of stopping a tremendous 3-point shooting team," Pitino said.


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