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Cardinals, Gators to meet in West final
Question of the Day
Donovan has done all right for himself in the coaching world and now gets a chance to see how he measures up to his former boss.
Pitino’s Cardinals shut down top-seeded Michigan State 57-44 in the other West Regional semifinal to set up Saturday’s mentor-protege final.
“Both teams have earned the right to play,” said Donovan, 0-6 against Pitino with two of the losses in Louisville-Florida matchups. “And the competition part of it will never, ever get in the way with me for our relationship, ever.”
Louisville (29-9) got the night started by overpowering Michigan State, using its amoeba-like zone and Senegalese shot-blocking sensation Gorgui Dieng to hold the NCAA tournament’s best-shooting team to 28 percent from the floor.
The Cardinals gave the Spartans (29-8) fits all night.
Instead of trapping like it normally does, Louisville played a bait-and-switch game with Michigan State and Draymond Green, the Spartans’ multitalented forward. The idea was to jump out on screens and make the Spartans work on every possession and, hopefully, wear them out.
It worked, in large part because Dieng was in the back to clean things up.
Tent-pole thin when he arrived in Louisville, the Senegalese center worked hard on his body and his game, developing into the one player the Cardinals had to have on the floor during his sophomore season. When he got in foul trouble, Louisville labored, so one of the key parts of Pitino’s game plan was to make sure the Cardinals protected him.
They did and he protected the rim in return, getting five of his blocked shots in the second half to prevent Michigan State from mounting any kind of rally. Dieng finished with five points, nine rebounds and three steals while matching the school record for blocked shots in an NCAA tournament game.
“He was very disruptive,” said Green, who had 13 points and 16 rebounds in his final game with Michigan State. “We’re not going to back down from anyone. We took it at him. He pulled off some great blocked shots. That’s what he does. That’s his strength.”
Michigan State started slow and never got going against Louisville’s zone.
The Spartans got the shots they wanted and usually make, but couldn’t get many to fall against Dieng or anyone else while being outscored 20-14 inside by the leaner Cardinals.
Brandon Wood added 14 points for the Spartans, who were outscored 17-4 off the bench.
“They disrupted us a little bit and we didn’t have enough guys who could play well,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Florida (26-10) made it a coaching-tree final in the West behind the NBA-player-in-the-making Beal.
A player Donovan has been pushing to be more assertive, Beal hit 8 of 10 shots and scored on some dazzling drives to the basket. He also had six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocked shots to send the Gators to the regional final for the second straight year.
“Whenever you’re missing shots from the outside, you should keep attacking the basket,” Beal said.
Marquette (27-8) struggled in the first half with Big East player of the year Jae Crowder in foul trouble and never really recovered.
Crowder finished with 15 points on 5-for-15 shooting while another Marquette senior, Darius Johnson-Odom, also went 5 for 15 in a struggle to reach 14 points. Buzz Williams’ team shot 31 percent and was held 18 points under its season average.
“You have to make shots, particularly on this stage in a tournament setting,” Williams said. “If you don’t make shots, the easy thing is to say we didn’t make shots we typically make. That’s not what happened. They were really good, they were outstanding and credit goes to them and their game plan with what we were trying to do offensively.
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