ORLANDO, Fla. -- Rick Pitino swore he wasn’t angry about Louisville’s spot on the seed line. What really bothered him about the NCAA tournament selection committee, he said, was that he’d been matched against protégé Steve Masiello and Manhattan.
Of course, no NCAA bracketing principle addresses a teacher-pupil scenario, so Pitino didn’t have a legitimate beef about drawing the guy who was a ballboy when Pitino coached the Knicks, who played for Pitino at Kentucky and who coached with Pitino at Louisville. But early Friday morning, everyone understood why the idea of playing Masiello’s Jaspers bothered him so much after a 71-64 Louisville win.
Because Masiello learned almost everything he knows from Pitino, he runs his program just like Pitino runs his. On the sideline, Masiello moves and sounds exactly like Pitino. His players play just like Pitino’s. And as Thursday bled into Friday, the Jaspers played that pressing, up-tempo style just as well as the Cardinals. Fortunately for Louisville, Luke Hancock picked up where he left off in his last NCAA tournament game. Hancock, the hero of Louisville’s national title game win against Michigan in 2013, opened the 2014 tournament by scoring eight consecutive points in the closing minutes to help cinch the win.
Everyone from Las Vegas bookmakers to data guru Nate Silver blasted the committee’s decision to make Louisville a No. 4 seed, but the Jaspers made it appear the committee had seeded the Cardinals too high. When the Jaspers followed a Rhamel Brown basket that gave them a 58-55 lead with a defensive stop with 3:58 remaining, they had their opportunity. But on Manhattan’s next offensive possession, a bad entry pass bounced off Brown’s hand and out of bounds. Louisville guard Russ Smith then hit a three-pointer to tie the score.
After the teams traded baskets, Hancock intercepted a lazy Manhattan pass in the backcourt and drove to the rim. Brown picked up his fifth foul defending Hancock, and Hancock hit both free throws. On Louisville’s next possession, Hancock tossed a casual head fake to open up space and then drilled a three-pointer from the right wing. With 27.1 seconds left, Hancock hit another three-pointer to effectively end the game.
After the buzzer, Pitino and Masiello shook hands. Then Pitino embraced his former player and assistant. “If I’m going to lose to anyone,” Masiello said, “I guess I’d want it to be him.”
Later, Pitino confirmed that playing a team just like his own, coached by a man he taught, was every bit as awful as he’d predicted. “I knew this game was going to be this way. When we play against ourselves in practice, it’s a nightmare,” Pitino said. “We don’t play well against ourselves. … They were like mirror images.”
But the Cardinals survived. And Pitino hopes the close call will help his team learn as it prepares to face Saint Louis in the round of 32. “I think it was really good for us,” Pitino said. “It was a tight game, and we had to fight back.”
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