When the bracket was unveiled less than two weeks ago, Louisville was named the East Region No. 4 seed. There was no doubting that the Cardinals had talent, but after the dismissal of starting guard Chris Jones, there didn't seem to be enough to make a deep tournament run.
So when the bracket was unveiled and there was Northern Iowa in the Round of 32 and maybe Villanova in the Sweet 16 and maybe Virginia or Michigan State or Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, it was tough to see Louisville making it to Indianapolis. The Cardinals didn't have the depth or the consistency needed to win four games against top competition.
Turns out, Louisville has just that — and maybe more. The Cardinals are now 40 minutes away from another trip to the Final Four, thanks to a 75-65 win the Sweet 16 over North Carolina State. Rick Pitino's imperfect Cardinals are now 40 minutes and a win away from their third Final Four appearance in four seasons.
Those other two appearances—in 2012 and in 2013, when it won it all—were expected from Louisville. But this run has come as something of a surprise. The Cardinals squeaked past UC-Irvine in their opening game then muscled their way into the East Regional semifinals by beating popular bracket-buster Northern Iowa. But here was N.C. State, which had already knocked off the region's No. 1 seed the prior weekend and had already beaten the Cardinals by nine in Louisville on Feb. 14.
Instead, it was the Cardinals who won by 10, pulling away late in the game.
Yes, there were the usual contributors in the box score. Junior forward Montrezl Harrell led all scorers with 24 points, while adding seven rebounds and four assists. And Terry Rozier was the catalyst for the pull-away, scoring 17 points and grabbing 14 rebounds for the double double. Freshman point guard Quentin Snider had 14 points and Wayne Blackshear had 10.
But even with those terrific performances, N.C. State was still hanging around in a game that was within one possession with four minutes to play.
Trevor Lacey's 18 points and Ralston Turner's 12 points helped keep the Wolfpack close. Louisville is heavily reliant on its five starters, but Pitino knew he needed something more down the stretch, so he turned to sophomore guard Anton Gill. Gill's hadn't scored since Feb. 28.
He scored seven points in 2 minutes and 20 seconds, turning a one-point game into a five-point Cardinals lead, from which they had all the cushion they needed. Another unlikely contributor in another unlikely night for Louisville in this NCAA tournament. One more unlikely game, and the Cardinals will be back in the Final Four again, just as no one expected.