- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Rick Pitino pushed all the right buttons, while Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean made all the tough shots.

The result for Louisville was a 93-79 victory over top-seeded Washington — a win that put the Cardinals in the Albuquerque bracket final and turned their insulting fourth seed into little more than an afterthought.

“Um, that’s not something we think about,” forward Larry O’Bannon said. “Coach tells us, ‘You’ve got to go out there and play the game,’ so we just go out there and play.”

Taking advantage of Pitino’s instruction to penetrate, then kick the ball out, Garcia and Dean hit five 3-pointers apiece. The Cardinals (32-4) finished with 11 total and improved to 24-1 this season when they make at least seven from long range.

“You wonder what it would’ve been like if they hadn’t been making all the 3s,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. “But they’ve won 31 other times this year. I’m sure there are 31 other teams who have said that.”

This was billed as a matchup between Washington (29-5), the team trying to prove it really did deserve a top seed, and Louisville, the team that had lost only once since Jan. 8 and couldn’t believe it was only a No. 4.

Garcia, who finished with 23 points, made three 3-pointers during a 14-0 run in the second half to help the Cardinals end the debate. They moved on to tomorrow’s regional final against West Virginia, which beat Texas Tech 65-60 last night.

Meanwhile, Washington’s top two scorers, Nate Robinson and Tre Simmons, struggled to defend against Pitino’s inside-outside offense and wound up languishing on the bench with three fouls for a big chunk of the first half.

Robinson picked up his third at the 8:51 mark, and Simmons picked up his third with 3:50 left, which is exactly when Garcia started the run that put Louisville ahead 45-32.

“It was weird,” Washington guard Brandon Roy said. “I was playing, kind of going through the motions, I looked at Coach and said, ‘Why isn’t Nate in there?’ He said Nate had three fouls. It was kind of disappointing.”

The teams traded buckets through much of the second half, and things got chippy when O’Bannon (18 points) went down in a heap with Jamaal Williams and Bobby Jones of Washington. O’Bannon appeared to tap Williams with his foot while Williams was down, and the Huskies got angry.

Robinson responded with a steal and dunk — his only field goal of the night — and Hakeen Rollins made back-to-back baskets to pull Washington within 67-61.

But less than two minutes later, Garcia hit his fifth 3-pointer to make it 76-65, and the Cardinals never let the lead fall below double digits.

“Coach said when I’m open, please shoot the ball,” Garcia said.

“I saw a couple of open shots and I took them.”

Juan Palacios shot 6-for-11 for 14 points, and Ellis Myles had eight points and 13 boards to help Louisville finish with an 11-rebound advantage in the battle between two teams, neither known much for their inside presence.

Robinson finished with eight points — 0-for-5 from 3-point range — and Simmons went 3-for-6 for 10 points.

The guards, each averaging more than 16 points this season, struggled mightily in the second half, unable to shake the effects of sitting on the bench for such a long time earlier. Williams finished with 18 points, Roy had 15 and Will Conroy had 14 points and eight assists to keep the Huskies within reach.

But neutralizing the Huskies guards was the key, and Pitino deserves a tip of the hat for that. Not only did the inside-outside strategy work, but the veteran coach with 448 career wins and four trips to the Final Four also mercilessly worked the officials over the first 91/2 minutes, while the Cardinals were picking up six fouls.

Louisville only committed two more the rest of the half, while both Simmons and Robinson — neither of them normally foul prone — found themselves on the bench.

“We have a normal rotation, and that was disrupted tonight,” Romar said. “But give Louisville credit. They put us in positions where we had to foul.”

Thus ended a nice run for the Huskies, who won the Pac-10 tournament and surprised pretty much everyone but themselves when they picked up their top seeding. This was their first trip to the regional semifinals since 1998, but the Huskies will have to wait to make the Final Four; they haven’t been there since 1953.

Louisville is seeking its eighth trip to the Final Four and its first since 1986, when coach Denny Crum and Pervis Ellison led the Cardinals to the national title. Pitino was last there in 1997, when he coached Kentucky.

His return to the Wildcats’ archrival in 2001 caused an uproar around the state, but nobody can argue with the results. After a 31/2-year stint with the Boston Celtics, he returned to the Bluegrass State and turned the Cardinals into a winner in his first season.

Now, he’s got them thinking about the title.

“I like pro ball … but it’s winning with misery,” Pitino said. “College basketball has so much to be happy about.”

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