UC-Irvine a 'tall' challenge for Louisville

SEATTLE - The University of Louisville basketball team will face the task of meeting the tallest player in college basketball on Friday when the Cardinals play UC-Irvine in the NCAA Tournament at 4:10 p.m. ET. The Cardinals will face Mamadou Ndiaye, the 7-foot-6 sophomore

The University of Louisville basketball team will face a tall challenge this afternoon in its first game of the NCAA Tournament.

The Cardinals will square off against UC-Irvine and 7-foot-6, 300-pound center Mamadou Ndiaye, who is the largest player in college basketball.

"He's big, real big," U of L freshman Shaqquan Aaron, who played in the same AAU team with Ndiaye, said. "But what people don't realize is he's athletic also. He's a lot better than people think because they just think of his size."

The UC-Irvine sophomore has an 8-foot wing span and set a school record with 103 blocked shots last season. He's only played in 14 games this season because of injuries but has recorded 22 blocked shots.

The big man from Senegal is more athletic than some of the other 7-footers that have come to the U.S. from foreign countries.

"We know he's tall, has that wing span and that," center Mangok Mathiang said. "But we have the quickness with our centers and we have to use that. We can't worry about how tall he is, we just have to do what we do best."

U of L assistant coach Wyking Jones said the staff has told the U of L big men they "have to sit in his lap," and not get caught behind him because he's so big.

And Jones should be able to help from personal experience. He played against 7-foot-7 giant Gheorghe Muresan when he was playing professional ball in France.

"He's too big and strong, so we have to sit in his lap, make him go get the ball," Jones said. "The closer he gets to the rim the better advantage he has, so we have to make him try and catch it. The biggest adjustment for us is on defense. He takes up the whole lane.

"Just having a big guy in the lane, we have to adjust to that."

And then there's Montrezl Harrell, who said he will take it at the big man.

"You can't be scared of him," Harrell said. "I am looking to catch him on a good lob or catching him standing under the rim.

"I am looking to go over him."

But that will be a tough task. Ndiaye is a special and large player. Ndiaye came to California from Senegal and spent time at Simi Valley Prep School. He had two surgeries afetr doctors discovered a benign tumor on his pituitary gland.

Ndiaye spent time at several high-level camps, including the NBA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Va., and was an impressive young prospect. But academic concerns had schools questioning him coming into college.

He lived close to UC-Irvine and became comfortable with the staff. Ndiaye speaks five languages and is a former soccer player, but it worked out with the Anteasters.

As a freshman, it worked out. He put up crazy block numbers - a record for a single-season in the Big West - but he's had two foot injuries this season that slowed him early on. Irvine has won eight of its past 10 games.

Ndiaye can dunk a ball flat-footed and is averaging 10.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game this season, averaging 19.1 minutes per game. He shoots 63 percent from the field.

"We're a different team when he's out there because we have a guy who is half a foot taller than anybody's ever seen on the floor," Irvine coach Russell Turner said. “I think that's especially a factor when a team is playing against Mamadou for the first time, because it's hard to imagine his size, his height and his length. So he's a great presence."

Turner uses headgear for his backups in practice but the Cardinals say they're not worried about him, only playing their games.

"We have to push him off the block," center Chinanu Onuaku said. "We can't just let him get the ball and turn around and score. The fact that he's 7-6 with an 8-foot wing span, that will get all the hype, but we think we can play with him."

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