After fourth-seeded Louisville was upset by Morehead State in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament, coach Rick Pitino joined CBS as a broadcaster and told the head of officiating that his crews were doing an excellent job. Somewhere, somehow, you have to think he was already campaigning for the future, certain that he would need the benefit of a few good whistles down the line.
"Down the line" just didn't happen to be today.
With under 11 minutes remaining, lead official Karl Hess whistled Peyton Siva for his fourth foul of the game, sending Pitino into a belligerent and irate rage, only to get a technical foul that would push the Florida lead into double digits.
Always a master of basketball philosophy, however, Pitino did make one stellar move in Saturday's 72-68 win over Florida. After getting blitzed on 8 out of 11 three-pointers in the first half, he elected to vacate the vaunted trapping zone -- which helped Louisville have the nation's best defense on a per-possession basis this season -- and go man-to-man for almost the entirety of the second half.
The Gators cooled off, failing to convert a single triple after intermission and were no longer able to establish their effective transition offense. Over the final 2:30 of the game, Billy Donovan's club missed six shots and committed one turnover. Moreover, in 48 possessions against the man-to-man, they shot just 11-29, compared to 12-17 versus the zone, per ESPN Stats & Info.
If history is playing a role in the 2012 version of March Madness, then the scorching Cardinals may just have a tad of destiny in their favor. Just like eventual national champion Connecticut last season, Louisville entered the dance on a major hot streak after unexpectedly winning the Big East tournament. And, like that UConn team, the Cards feature a dynamic 1-2 punch at guard in Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Neither is as explosive or as gifted as Kemba Walker or Shabazz Napier, but both are capable of taking over games on both ends -- their combination of 28 points and 10 assists against guard-heavy Florida is evidence of that.
Even as a four seed in the Final Four though, Louisville lacks a true star. Freshman forward Chane Behanan is a behemoth in the paint; he can really score on the block and is relentless on the glass, but he's not a star, at least not yet. As a result, Pitino -- who won the 1996 National Championship at Kentucky -- is by far the most recognizable face on the Cards bench.
Either way, his team is apparently on a mission.
"We want to get to a Final Four and win a championship," he said after the game. As fate would have it, a likely semifinal date with overall top seed Kentucky is looming in New Orleans.
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