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Louisville/Texas A&M Preview

The issue over whether or not history does in fact repeat itself is one that has been debated at length for decades, with the latter stance being adopted by many a college professor who would attempt to dissect a cliché carefully crafted by Einstein himself for the sheer reason that it is a cliché.

The loser of today's NCAA Tournament second round game between third seeded Texas A&M and sixth seeded Louisville had better hope that the professors are right.

Hundreds of thousands of shots have been attempted in Division I college basketball over the years, but perhaps only a handful have had as dramatic an impact on two programs as Tony Branch's buzzer-beater that sent the 1980 regional semifinal game between the Cardinals and Aggies into overtime. Led by Wiley Brown, Louisville outscored A&M 13-2 in the extra five minutes and won the game 66-55.

The Cardinals eventually made their first of four 1980's appearances in the Final Four and won their first of two national championships. Twenty-seven years later Texas A&M hasn't been back to the Sweet 16.

With so little to brag about for the better part of three decades, it's no wonder A&M fans are declaring Saturday's game the biggest in school history.

Despite history wearing a lighter shade of red, the Ags enter Rupp Arena as the darlings of countless numbers of brackets, and the clear-cut favorite to advance to San Antonio.

The most important player on the floor will be the only All-American wearing either shade of red, A&M's Acie Law.

Before I go any further I just have to note that my buddies Weber and Kovacs have been saying for months now that Law has no business in an Aggie uniform and that he actually belongs on one of the early 90's UNLV Runnin' Rebel teams. Now every time I look at him it's all I can think about. If the kid were born 15 years earlier there is no doubt he would have played for Jerry Tarkanian, he's got the same haircut, the same game, the same mannerisms, it's ridiculous.


These are your teammates Acie

Law's late game heroics have been well documented, but his composure against a Louisville pressure defense that scored 30 points off of 21 turnovers in their first round win over Stanford may end up being the main reason the Aggies advance. Louisville's full court pressure has been a bit exaggerated, as the press is used more to slow down the pace of the game and force the offense to start with a shortened shot clock than it is to force turnovers. Still, A&M has faced just one other team (Missouri) that pressed with any type of consistently, and with all due respect to Mike Anderson, he doesn't quite yet have all the athletes he needs to play his style. This makes Acie the point guard more important than Acie the scorer.

Law is the Aggies main and only real reliable ball handler, but any hope Cardinal fans may have had of #1 wearing down as the game goes along should surely be erased by the ridiculously long NCAA Tournament TV timeouts.

"Guards are important because they have the ball in their hands and they make the decisions that can win or lose a game," Rick Pitino said Friday. "With Texas A&M, the ball goes in Acie Law's hands and he does something good."

Pitino caught a first-hand glimpse of what makes the guy he believes is the best point guard in the country so great, when he sat behind the A&M bench during their at times tense bout with Ivy League champ Penn. During a timeout at an especially nerve wracking point in the game, Law calmed his team down and then backed up everything he said.

"He immediately went to everybody on the team and said, 'Relax, I'm taking over, it's not going to happen," Pitino said. "He just said, 'I'm taking over the game."

The Aggies promptly went on a 7-0 run and put the game out of reach.

Law's ability to handle the Louisville pressure in the half-court will also mean open shots on the perimeter for Josh Carter, who has proven he is one of the best three-point shooters in the country by connecting 84 of his 167 attempts this season. If Carter is hitting early then it will force U of L's guards to think twice about helping out on a driving Law, and this means bad news.

Billy Gillispie will also look for a lift from sixth man Donald Sloan, a freshman who can take over ball handling duties when Law needs a blow, and one good enough that he can consistently get to the rack if need be.

While much of the pregame attention has been aimed in the direction of Louisville's pressure and subsequently how A&M will handle it, perhaps more should have been devoted to the challenge presented to the Cardinals on the other end of the floor.

Louisville shot 49% and scored 78 points in their opening round victory, but the bulk of both of those statistics can be largely attributed to the aforementioned plethora of Stanford turnovers. The at times offensively challenged Cards are now taking on a team that ranks 16th nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 59.2 points per game.

A&M has held its opponent under 70 points in all but five of its 31 games this season. Louisville averages 71.6.

Leading the Ags on defense is 6-9 beast Joseph Jones who averages just under seven rebounds and also scores 13.5 ppg. Jones single-handedly changed the face of the Penn game with two thunderous follow-up dunks to take momentum away from the upset-minded Quakers. He finished the contest with 14.

A&M is a predominantly man team (aren't they all?) that can't match speed man-for-man with Louisville. I think Sosa will be able to penetrate on Dominique Kirk (who played awfully well on Thursday), which makes the inside presence of Jones and 6-10 senior center Antanas Kavaliauskas all the more important.

As is the case in most games, the play of Sosa and Williams is the key on offense. When they're making smart decisions, we're usually scoring, and when they're not not only are we not scoring, but the other team is usually scoring on run outs. If there's nothing going on inside both players have got to beat their man on the dribble and then make the right decision once they get into the lane. If Edgar and T-Will are hitting their pull-ups and runners in addition to kicking the ball out to a shooter on the wing at the appropriate time, then we're going to be tough to beat.

Of course it goes without saying that David Padgett has to come up huge. Unlike T-Will, Padgett has to score for us to win because, let's face it, our outside shooting is too unreliable to ever expect to get anything majorout of it. He's also got to get to the stripe consistently considering what a great foul shooter he is, and if he isn't it probably means he's not touching it enough (gross). Anything less than 12 and seven from David and I can't see us moving on.

As they should be, Aggie fans are upset that their team is being forced to play a lower seeded team (Shouldn't it be "higher seeded?" I get confused.) team just an hour away from their home. Considering that this is a team that beat Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse, I would be more upset that my team had been paired against the best single-game elimination tournament coach in America than anything else.

Pitino is, and always will be in the NCAA Tournament, the X factor in this game. Gillispie is a great young coach, but if his team wins this afternoon it will be a hard sell to convince me that it happened because he outmaneuvered Rick Pitino.

Rick said after the Stanford win that you have to take a different approach in March and that he was letting his team go a bit. With this in mind, win or lose I think we're all going to see a hell of an effort this afternoon.

Whatever happens today I hope we can all remember how much fun these last two months have been. In many ways this is the most rewarding season I can recall as a Cardinal fan. In my mind this season has already been a success, and if we lose to a team that I've thought all year was one of the best in the country then so be it.

Still, I'd just as soon not.

Notes

--This is the third time the Cardinals have entered the tournament as a No. 6 seed ('96, '97). U of L has an 6-2 record as the No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Sweet 16 (`96) and Elite Eight (`97) from that position.

Everyone do exactly what you did for the Villanova and New Mexico games ten and 11 years ago.

--Only three teams have more Sweet 16 appearances than Louisville's 15 since the NCAA began Sweet 16 records in 1975.

--The Cardinals are 6-13 all-time in the Big Dance when playing as the lower seed. They are 33-6 as the higher seed.

--Louisville has a collective 22-14 record against current members of the Big 12
Conference (Colorado 1-0, Kansas 5-6, Kansas State 4-1, Missouri 1-2, Nebraska 2-0,
Oklahoma 0-3, Oklahoma State 3-1, Texas 4-1, Texas A&M 2-0).

--Texas A&M is 4-10 all-time against teams from the Big East Conference. The last time A&M played a Big East team was in 2002-03, when it dropped a 78-72 decision to Miami (Fla.).

--The win against Penn on Thursday gave A&M Coach Billy Gillispie his 99th career win as a college head coach (99-57 in five years). He could notch his 100th victory on Saturday.

--After beating Penn on Thursday (68-52), A&M is 3-2 all-time in games played at Rupp Arena. The Aggies won the consolation title at the 1986 Kentucky Invitational,
falling to Boston University in the first round (65-63) then edging Iona (67-60). A&M upset Kentucky (73-69) in the opening round of the 1978 Kentucky Invitational but lost to Illinois (71-57) in the title game.

--Louisville's win over Stanford was the first game the team had played in Rupp Arena against someone other than Kentucky. The Cards are 5-10 all-time in Rupp.

--Rick Pitino is 109-9 in Rupp Arena.

--A&M has been out-scored in the paint just four times this season, posting an average scoring margin of +13.4. The Ags average 33.5 points in the paint and have scored at least 30 in the paint in 22 games. They allow just 19.7 points down low.

--Over the past eight games U of L has averaged 38.8 points in the paint.

--A&M's average margin in its six losses has been just 3.7 points, the second lowest in the country (Akron, 3.0) and the lowest in the NCAA Tournament field.

--The Aggies rank fifth nationally in field goal percentage (50%) and third nationally in three-point percent (42.1%)

--A&M is tied for the lead (with Uconn) in the nation in field goal percentage defense at 36.2 percent.

Notable and Quotable

Rick Pitino

"The NCAA attitude has to be different. Your attitude and the way you focus and prepare has to be different in the NCAAs. I don't believe you can stay the same (as in the regular season), because it is not the same.

I change my whole disposition. This is not a time to over-coach or over-criticize. It's a time to get your team to believe in itself and to have fun."

"(Law) reminds me - only a better shooting version - of the guy [Marcus Williams]that played at Connecticut last year at the point."

"Where the crowd helps you in certain games is, when the momentum is going the other way ... the crowd keeps you from giving in."

Acie Law

"Usually a team will pressure, but once you break the initial front of the press, the guards tend to back off a little bit. Louisville continues to go out and pressure throughout the whole possession and continues to jump trap every time they get the opportunity."

"The guys have so much confidence in me to make a play. I need to be more aggressive and assert myself and put pressure on the defense, then take whatever they give us."

"I just like to tell my guys to keep a cool head and things will be fine."

"Hey, we're in the tournament. If we had to play Texas in Austin, we'd still be happy to be here."

Billy Gillispie

"I'm not happy to be going against the press, but I'm happy that we have Acie Law."

"Acie has really grown as a leader and that's the thing I'm most proud of. He's always been a good player. But he's turned into a fantastic leader. When your best player has that calmness, it really helps guys from getting rattled."

"(Law) has an enormous amount of talent. The next thing that he has is an enormous amount of confidence. Great players like him that have the ability to finish games like he has aren't afraid to miss. His last shot does not affect his next shot."

"He's (Joseph Jones) a really good passer, but he (also) really thinks the game well. . .. He always sees one play ahead. Very rarely does he get in a rush. He has confidence to make plays. He's not afraid to make mistakes."

"We're not worried about that stuff. We have played at a lot of places where there was a very hostile environment and I'm sure it will be that way [today]. ... It's a waste of your time and energy being concerned about where you are playing and who your opponent is."

"I don't think we've done a whole lot, but I don't think we have a lot to prove."

Terrence Williams

"Sometimes, when the point guard or whoever else has the ball, the other four guys can't hear what he's yelling. It (the crowd) will take them out of their offense, and they might have a careless turnover. . . . Or they don't hear what their coach is saying, so they might have to call a timeout."

Dominique Kirk

"We have a lot of confidence in him (Law). He's our leader, he's our captain. He's very clutch and we have his back."