Louisville next for UNC
By Bret Strelow
CHARLOTTE ó North Carolina has several sources of motivation as it prepares for the East Regional final against Louisville.
“We’re finally playing a game for a plane ticket,” junior Marcus Ginyard said.
Top-seeded UNC (35-2) will face the fourth-seeded Cardinals (27-8) in an Elite Eight matchup tonight at Bobcats Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 9:05 p.m.
The Tar Heels can’t win the national championship unless they first advance to the Final Four, and they’re one step away from that platform for the second straight season. UNC dropped an overtime thriller to Georgetown in the East Regional final last year.
North Carolina has cruised to this point in the 2008 postseason. It won three games at the ACC Tournament in Charlotte, overwhelmed a pair of NCAA tournament foes in Raleigh and reached the regional final with a 68-47 victory against Washington State.
The Tar Heels need one more win to punch their ticket to San Antonio. That trip requires wings rather than wheels.
“This is what we worked the whole summer for,” UNC point guard Ty Lawson said. “For this game, to play this team and be in this situation.”
North Carolina and Louisville are squaring off four months later than expected, and more is at stake.
The four-team field for the Las Vegas Invitational in late November included both schools, and Louisville carried a No. 6 national ranking at the time.
The Cardinals were without senior starters Juan Palacios and David Padgett when they faced BYU, which won to secure a spot opposite UNC in the final. The semifinal result was the first of three losses in a tough five-game stretch for Louisville.
Palacios, who injured his right knee during the Cardinals’ second practice of the season, made his first appearance in late December. Padgett, who suffered a broken kneecap in Louisville’s second game, returned to play in the conference opener on Jan. 1.
The Cardinals lost to Cincinnati, but they have won 18 of their last 22 games.
“When we were in Vegas with them, you could tell they had some problems because of the big guys that were out,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “When they got those guys back, I saw them play a couple of times, and they were really, really good.
“The only time I saw them when they didn’t play that well is when Rick (Pitino) had on his white suit. He changed at halftime, and they played their tails off in the second half.”
Padgett leads the team in scoring, and reserve forward Earl Clark averages 11.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Terrence Williams, a 6-foot-6 forward, posts 11.1 points per contest, grabs an average of 7.3 rebounds and has 158 assists. No other Louisville player has more than 69.
The Cardinals share some similarities with Clemson. They employ a fullcourt press, then drop into an active zone.
“We’re going to try to speed them up even more if they want to run and get the ball turned over,” Louisville guard Jerry Smith said.
A fast pace suits the Tar Heels better than the clock-draining style of Washington State, but UNC managed to breeze past the Cougars.
Louisville, like North Carolina, has won each of its NCAA tournament games by at least 18 points. The Tar Heels have trailed for a total of 90 seconds.
“Since we were sitting in the locker room after the Georgetown game, we feel like every single thing from that point was directed toward getting where we are right now,” Ginyard said. “It’s a long time coming for us, but we’re very excited to be in that position.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.