Louisville basketball is sweet again.
The Cardinals are headed back to the Sweet 16 for a fourth consecutive season following a 66-53 victory over Northern Iowa in an East Regional third-round game.
"I couldn't be more pumped up, more excited because we beat a great team," U of L coach Rick Pitino said. "We are so pumped up."
Pitino said in the past few weeks he wouldn't be shocked with an early exit or a trip deep into the NCAA Tournament for the Cardinals, who lost point guard Chris Jones late in the season when he was dismissed from the team.
Now, they're headed to the Sweet 16 again. It's the first time in school history that U of L has made it to four straight Sweet 16s in the tournament. The Cardinals will play N.C. State on Friday night at 7:37 p.m. in Syracuse, N.C.
Sophomore Terry Rozier had his best performance of the season with 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds, while Montrezl Harrell had 14 points and Wayne Blackshear and Quentin Snider chipped in 10 apiece.
U of L assistant coach Mike Balado pointed out the Cardinals' offense was sensational (22 of 48 from the field) but it was defense that won the game.
"We won with defense," he said. "We made some big plays down the stretch on the defensive end, Wayne's block and then Mangok (Mathiang's) block. That was a good team, they could shoot it at all five positions. We played some great defense."
It was the U of L ferocious defense that held Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Seth Tuttle to seven field-goal attempts. He had 14 points and the Panthers were just 18 of 46 from the field. UNI missed eight of its final 10 shots.
"We have a short bench," Pitino said. "But these guys don't take a play off, and that's unusual in this world."
On offense, it was Rozier who took his game to the next level. He was all over the floor and unstoppable, hitting 8 of 13 shots and 8 of 9 free throws. He had tow late alley-oop passes for dunks to Harrell.
U of L only turned it over seven times, while Northern Iowa turned it over 10 times and the Cardinals scored 10 points off turnovers.
Northern Iowa did have a run late. Nate Buss made back-to-back shots to trim a 10-point deficit to six with 4:26 left and the Panthers had the ball back. Jeremy Morgan flipped a pass to Wes Washpun but his dunk attempt was blocked by Blackshear.
U of L got the ball back and it ended with a Harrell dunk.
"Biggest play of the game; saved us," Rozier said.
Added Pitino: "That was the big key of the game. Gigantic."
About a minute later, Rozier and Harrell connected again for a jam and the lead grew to 11 and the Cardinals started to celebrate.
"We're not done yet," Rozier said.