Senior Mangok Mathiang is a key for the Cardinals in the NCAA Tournament; the center has "really come on" in recent weeks per Rick Pitino

Senior Mangok Mathiang is a key for the Cardinals in the NCAA Tournament; the center has "really come on" in recent weeks per Rick Pitino.

It's been an up and down five years for University of Louisville senior Mangok Mathiang.

And the 6-foot-10 senior confessed before his Senior Day that there were likely more downs during his career with the Cardinals.

But Mathiang is ready to end his career on a high note and U of L coach Rick Pitino said the fifth-year post player is one of the biggest keys for the Cardinals heading into the NCAA Tournament.

"Mangok is playing well for us," Pitino said. "We have really made great strides offensively, in the half-court as well as the full court. A lot of that has to do with the play of Mangok Mathiang and Deng Adel. Those two guys have really come in the last 10 days.

"Mangok is playing great basketball."

Mathiang, who was suspended with Adel for the Virginia game in early February, has scored in double figures in six of the last 13 games he's played and two others he had nine.

In the past three games, Mathiang has scored 39 points and grabbed 25 rebounds.

"I've had a lot of ups and downs, but I want to end with a big up," Mathiang said in a recent interview. "I want to go out with a 'W' in my last game, so we have a lot of work to do.

"We've worked hard as a team but we still need to keep getting better."

While his highest average is 7.1 points a game last season during his career, Mathiang has seemingly taken a major step forward in the final few weeks of his senior season.

Six of his 15 career double-figure scoring efforts have come in the final month and a half of his career, while he's had three of his four career double-doubles during that time. He had 13 points and 13 rebounds in the loss to Florida State in late January, while getting 12 points and 10 rebounds in the loss to Wake Forest and 18 points and 11 boards on Senior Night in the win over Notre Dame.

"I just want to do whatever I can to help this team win," Mathiang said. "I don't care what it is. I just want to win."

Pitino said with the improvement of Mathiang, along with the play of Anas Mahmoud, that he's getting what he needs from the center position.

"The five spot is not a weakness of ours," Pitino said. "That's one of the reasons we have made rapid improvement in the last 10 days, because of the five spot. We're getting what we need from (the centers)."

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