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Louisville Proves to Be A Slugger

Georgia Tech No Match For Pitino's Cardinals: Louisville 76, Georgia Tech 54

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 21, 2005; Page D01

NASHVILLE, March 20 -- Francisco Garcia was in front of the Georgia Tech bench when he released a three-point shot and began backpedaling downcourt. As the ball swished through the net, Garcia bumped into a frustrated-looking Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt, who slid out of Garcia's way and took a seat on the Georgia Tech bench.

There was nothing Hewitt could do.

Louisville forward Francisco Garcia reacts to the crowd as he leaves the court following the Cardinals' win over Georgia Tech. (Tami Chappell - Reuters)

It was that kind of afternoon as the Cardinals shot 52.4 percent and made 10 three-point shots on their way to a 76-54 spanking of Georgia Tech at Gaylord Entertainment Center.

The fourth-seeded Cardinals (31-4), who will face top seed Washington in Albuquerque on Thursday, are in the round of 16 for the first time since 1997, when Denny Crum's Cardinals lost to North Carolina in the region final.

"Once you get to the Sweet 16, that's when the real fun starts," said Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, who is in his fourth season at Louisville. "I told my team after the game that now is the time when they really can have some fun."

Playing in front of a pro-Louisville crowd, Pitino's team had fun from the opening tip Sunday night. The Cardinals hit their first six shots, including four three-pointers, and took an early 16-6 lead.

Garcia scored 18 of his game-high 21 points during the first half and helped the Cardinals get rolling with his first shot, making an NBA-length three-pointer while falling onto his back.

Louisville guard Larry O'Bannon, who finished with 16 points and made 5 of 7 shots, opened the game's scoring by nailing a long three-pointer from the top of the key.

"It was great," said O'Bannon, a Louisville native who remembers cheering for the Cardinals the last time they made it this far. "I came out and hit the first one, then Francisco got going, then other people got flowing. We just seemed to be making all of our shots and that fed our defense. We just carried it from there."

Georgia Tech (20-12) never recovered from the opening barrage, trailed 45-30 at halftime and never got closer than 52-43 in the second half. The Yellow Jacket never got their fast break going, couldn't create high-percentage shots against Louisville's half-court zone and were outrebounded 33-16.

Center Luke Schenscher led Georgia Tech with 13 points and guard Jarrett Jack added 11, but guards B.J. Elder and Will Bynum combined to score 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting.

Georgia Tech forward Ismail Muhammad, who missed the ACC tournament and Friday's first-round win over George Washington because of patellar tendinitis in his right knee, attempted to play Sunday, but was visibly bothered by the knee and didn't score in his 12 minutes.

It was Georgia Tech's lowest scoring output since a 60-56 loss to Duke on Feb. 23.

"They did a great job of staying out on the shooters," Elder said. "I think that was their main focus, to try to make us score from the inside. Even when we drove, they stayed outside the shooters."

Despite their struggles, the Yellow Jackets trailed 54-43 and were hanging around when O'Bannon came up with an offensive rebound and kicked the ball out to a wide-open Taquan Dean, who made the first of his three consecutive three-pointers.

When Dean's third three-pointer sailed through with 5 minutes 36 seconds left to give Louisville a 63-45 lead, the small patch of Georgia Tech fans slumped in their seats, and the Georgia Tech players knew they were done.

"We put [ourselves] in position to come right back and attack them, but then they came down and hit some big shots," Jack said. "That was it right there."

The victory seemed to confirm Pitino's belief that Louisville was deserving of a higher seed. The Cardinals have won 20 of their last 21 games and are playing with a high level of confidence.

"If you tell me that they are a four seed, you're nuts," Hewitt said. "You're nuts. That is a great basketball team."

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