Update: Louisville post-game players video after the jump.
Five quick impressions from Louisville’s 79-48 win over North Carolina A&T at Rupp Arena in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.
1. Cardinal Red in Big Blue Country. Rupp Arena wasn’t full, but there was plenty of Louisville red inside the house that Rupp built. There were chants of “C-A-R-D-S!” and nothing in the way of boos or anything like that for Kentucky’s arch-rival, which made the trip up I-64 as the NCAA Tournament’s overall No. 1 seed. Louisville looked right at home.
2. The first game is always the toughest. Not in terms of competition. North Carolina A&T was the No. 16 seed, after all, and it had to win a play-in game with Liberty on Monday to advance to Lexington. But there are always first-game tournament jitters, even for a team whose core players reached the Final Four last year. Louisville led just 6-4 early and turned the ball over on three of its first six possessions. But Rick Pitino turned up the heat a bit, and Louisville found its groove.
3. The end-of-first-half lull. Pitino was not happy at halftime, what with North Carolina A&T making three three-pointers over the final 6:15 of the first half to cut the Louisville lead from 20 points to 14 before a Chane Behanan basket off a Peyton Siva assist pushed it back to 16 points. The Louisville players said that during intermission, Pitino emphasized better defense in the second half and the Cards delivered, holding the losers to 35 percent shooting the second half after A&T shot 47.6 percent the first half.
4. Behanan’s missed dunk. The sophomore stole a pass and raced in ready to throw down a wide-open vicious jam in the first half. One problem: He missed. The rebound was batted around, and Behanan ended up with it and scored. That wasn’t enough for the Cincinnati native to escape the ribbing of his teammates, who in the post-game locker room predicted that it would be shown prominently on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
5. Louisville is legit. Pitino throws waves of talent and relentless pressure at opponents. The Cards forced 27 turnovers, a good many of which occurred in the backcourt. Siva said the team ended up with 60 deflections. Its goal is 40. Luke Hancock said the Cards played well but can play better.