Cards focused on the task at hand

Playing their best basketball of the season heading into Friday's opening-round NCAA Tournament game against No. 13 seed Louisiana-Lafayette, the fourth-ranked Louisville Cardinals (29-4) are focused on taking care of business on the court at the Gaylord Entertainment Center later this week.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino and his fourth-ranked Cardinals were shocked Sunday evening by the NCAA selection committee's decision to reward their 29-4 season with the fourth-seed in the Albuquerque bracket.

After winning both the Conference USA regular-season and tournament titles, not to mention 18 of their last 19 games, Pitino thought his Cardinals were a lock to receive one of the tournaments four No. 2 seeds, or maybe even a top seed if things fell the right way. In fact, the fourth-year Cardinal coach told his team during a timeout in their 75-74 win over Memphis last Saturday that if they could find a way to beat the Tigers' on their home court, they'd be justly reward with a favorable seed.

But despite beating the Tigers a second time this season, the selection committee didn't see things the same way as Pitino.

"I wish now that I wouldn't have used (seeding) as a motivational tool," Pitino said last night on ESPN's sports center.

How could you fault him, though. Ranked No. 4 in both polls, most figured exactly what Pitino did; that Louisville would at worst be a two-seed when the tourney field was announced.

"We considered a lot of (seeding) scenarios but a four never was one of them," Louisville assistant Reggie Theus said Sunday night on Pitino's weekly television show. "At one point, it was even iffy that we might get a one (seed) if certain things happened."

And those "things" Theus alluded to seemed to have happened. North Carolina fell to Georgia Tech in the ACC semi's, Kansas fell early in the Big 12 tournament, Connecticut and Boston College both received an early boot from the Big East tourney, and Kentucky fell for the second time in a week's time span to Florida, a team the Cardinals defeated in Gainesville earlier this season.

Taquan Dean, the C-USA Tournament
MVP, and Francisco Garcia, also an
All-Tourney selection, are prepared to
lead the Cardinals deep into the NCAA
Tournament. (ITV/ Troy Tubervile)

And while the Cardinals surely were angered initially by their seeding, the team's focus shifted quickly to their first round opponent - Louisiana-Lafayette.

Louisville began preparing for the Cajuns' Sunday night and returned to the practice floor Monday to get ready for their date with the Sun Belt Conference champions this Friday at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, TN. One thing appears clear about Robert Lee's squad, they're an athletic bunch.

"They're very athletic and a team that you have to be very concerned about because they just play wide open basketball," Theus said. "They're a little bit like UAB in the sense that they can cause problems for anybody because of their style."

That style helped the Ragin Cajuns' win 14 of their last 17 games, including three straight last week in Denton, TX to claim their second straight Sun Belt tournament title, and the league's automatic ticket to the NCAA's.

And while much of the pre-tourney talk has centered on a potential second-round showdown with last year's national runner-up, Georgia Tech, Theus says the Cardinals are focused on the task at hand - getting by Louisiana-Lafayette Friday evening.

"We just have to win the first game to get to the second game," Theus said. "It can not matter at this point who we are playing."

Fortunately, the Cardinals are playing their best basketball of the season. They've won nine straight since an early February setback at home against Memphis, including two impressive victories against the Tiger's on the road and one over NCAA-bound Charlotte.

Combine that with the recent stellar play of seniors Ellis Myles and Larry O'Bannon, the re-emergence of freshman Juan Palacios, who looked like a rebounding machine last week in Memphis, and the continued hot-shooting of guard Taquan Dean, and the Cardinals will roll into Nashville later this week full of confidence. If that weren't enough good news for the Cardinals, junior Francisco Garcia seemed to re-gain his touch - and confidence - from the outside last week in Memphis.

"Our team is playing such good basketball right now," Theus said. "It's a team full of veterans and they're hungry. These guys don't want their season to end and that's why they've played so well down the stretch."

"This is a team that is ready for any task put in front of them," Theus added. "We've proven that. We can't deal with what the committee does, but we can take care of our business."

The Cardinals first task on the road to Saint Louis, site of next month's Final Four, tips-off Friday at 7:10 PM EST.

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