McGee's pressure ignites Louisville

With his team – No. 1 seed Louisville – up just 35-33 at halftime over 16-seed Morehead State, Andre McGee turned up the defensive pressure on the Eagles in the second half to help lead the Cardinals to a 20-point win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night in Dayton.

"We didn't play bad in the first half – we shot 50 percent and they hung right there with us," Rick Pitino said. "Without a question Earl Clark and Terrence Williams are the professional athletes on our team but there's no doubt that (Andre McGee) makes our team win. Andre McGee is the key times ten to our basketball team."

With a slim lead heading back out for the second half, McGee helped Louisville turn up the defensive pressure on Morehead State. McGee's relentless effort on defense helped Louisville go on a 10-2 run at the beginning of the final period. From there, the Cardinals never looked back.

"It started from Andre's defense," Samardo Samuels said. "Everybody follows behind him. He's our leader and he gets us going on defense and we just try to match his intensity on defense."

McGee had five or Louisville's nine steals as the Cardinals forced 20 Morehead turnovers.

Samardo Samuels provided the offense
inside against Morehead.

"He gets everybody pressing and playing defense," Pitino said. "He does it for one reason – a deep passion to win. What he does is tough to do. He is extremely quick."

McGee also hit 2 of 3 three point field goals to finish with eight points. He also added four assists.

"It is a tough job but I've been doing this since September when we started conditioning," McGee said. "I made sure I worked on my conditioning over the summer. We've been pressing since I've been here and Coach (Pitino) is infamous for his fullcourt pressure."

"The amazing thing about Andre – most young people are into stats…He came to the University of Louisville to win and he changed his game to become one of the better defensive players in the country. His ego is team ego. He gets all his gratification from the team winning and the team working hard."

Louisville relied on its defense to win the Big East regular-season and tournament titles so it should be no surprise that defense propelled the Cardinals into Sunday's second round against either Siena or Ohio State. The Cardinals limited Morehead to only 38.5 percent shooting, including just 4 of 11 from beyond the three-point line.

"It was a typical Louisville type performance," Morehead coach Donnie Tyndall said. "What they try to do is wear you down with their depth and their physicality inside allows them to do that. That's been his (Pitino's) M.O. since he was at Providence."

On their way to a 20-point win, Louisville held the Eagles scoreless for nearly the first four minutes of the second half. The Cardinals simply wore out Morehead in the final 20 minutes with relentless defensive pressure, out-scoring the Eagles 39-21 after the break.

"Their press did wear us down," said Morehead forward Kenneth Faried. "Louisville is a relentless team when they press. We were trying to get them in a halfcourt game but we had too many turnovers."

In their last three games, Louisville has started slowly but finished strong. The Cardinals trailed Villanova and Syracuse by eight points at halftime in the final two games in the Big East tournament before coming back to win both contest by double-figures. Pitino says that sometimes happens with teams who play a frenetic defensive style that tries to wear opponents down in the game's final period.

"Pressing teams get their dividends in the second half," Pitino said.

Louisville has forced 20 or more turnovers in three of four post-season contests. If the Cardinals continue to ride their pressure defense in the NCAA Tournament they will definitely rank as one of Pitino's best-ever pressing teams.

"They're not the best but I'd put them in my top five," Pitino said. "The '96 team is the greatest I've ever coached but they're definitely a very good pressing team. We don't have as much shot blocking but everything else is there – the quickness and length are there and the hard work is there."

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