Rodney McCray said it in such a mundane way.

"I'll approach it the same way as the last two, I guess," said Louisville's 6-foot-7, 220-pound senior forward.

He said it without emotion, as if he were humming some meaningless tune just to pass the time away. But Rodney McCray, no April fool, was not talking about appearing in his third game.

He was talking about appearing in his third final four. Which is hardly mundane.

This is a fact: no player has appeared in three NCAA semifinals since the UCLA domination ended in the early '70s.

Until now.

Sometime around 5:30 p.m. EST Saturday, McCray and the Cardinals will play No. 1-ranked Houston (30-2) at University Arena. Expect plenty of pressing and dunking.

Somebody told Louisville Coach Denny Crum that the Cardinals (32-3) had no one player with the game-breaking abilities of Darrell Griffith, the guy who made Louisville 1979-80 NCAA champions.

And Crum said, "You're right. We have five guys who play like Darrell Griffith."

Such as Rodney McCray. McCray averages 11.1 points per game, third-highest among the Cardinals, and a team-high 8.5 rebounds per game. His resume is glossy: 1983 Metro Conference player of the year, 1983 Metro Conference tournament most valuable player, the Metro's best field goal percentage (.590) this year and, in the days of Griffith, the freshman Rodney McCray made the NCAA all-tournament team.

Now, about that preparation: "I play hard and contribute my two things," McCray said today, "defense and rebounding. Tomorrow I think I have the potential for 15 boards, couple of steals and some good defense.

"What do I think about playing in three final fours? I don't really think about my accomplishments. Maybe after this is all over I'll sit back and think." Surely, a smile will come to Rodney McCray's face then.

"Rod just knows what he has to do. And he does it," said forward Scooter McCray, Rodney's older brother and the only other senior among this flock of Cardinals.

Scooter, a 6-9, 215-pound forward who averages 9.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, is appearing in his second national semifinal. He missed the 1980 tournament (he redshirted that season) because of an injury.

These brothers say they have a designed play where Scooter throws a high lob to Rodney who, after dunking the ball, throws a high five at Scooter. "It's eye contact," says Scooter. "I look at Rod and he raises his eyebrows. After Saturday's game (against Kentucky), Rod said I was lobbing the ball too high. I told him, 'I just had confidence in you.' "

In the crowd today was Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall. Against his team in the Mideast Regional final, Rodney McCray scored 15 points and worked hand-swiping wonders on the Louisville "2D" press.

"Rodney makes things so tough on the full-court press," said Hall. "He's an intimidator. With his wingspan, the guards have to take three steps just to get out of his reach. He never stands around."

And he doesn't plan on standing around against Houston, either. He'll spend his time in the middle of the key, rarely straying from it. Just like always. "If Akeem (Olajuwon, Houston's 7-foot center) blocks my shots, I'm not going to change anything."

Scooter McCray added about his own team, which is prone to blocking shots, "We've had more shots blocked this year in practice than we have by the opposing team."

Just then another reporter approached Rodney McCray. And McCray began it all again: "I'm not going to change anything. I'll approach it the same way as the last two, I guess."