Wayne Blackshear’s aggressive, fearless drives, including two eye-bulging finishes in the final minutes over Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in all of college basketball, enabled the fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals to silence 13-seeded UC Irvine 57-55 in Seattle.
After UC Irvine guard Luke Nelson attempted a long three-point field goal, freshman guard Quentin Snider sprinted toward the baseline to secure the rebound and was subsequently pushed out of bounds, drawing a foul with nine seconds to go.
Snider knocked down both free throws to put the Cardinals up 57-55.
When asked how the pressure of having to assume a larger role on the team has affected his overall approach, especially in late close-game situations, Snider attributed his ability to remain unfazed to confidence.
“Pretty much, I just try to have confidence,” said Snider, who finished with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting. “Coming into the game, because it’s my first NCAA Tournament game, I just try to be confident.”
Following the free throws that gave the Cardinals a two-point advantage with nine seconds left in regulation, UC Irvine guard Alex Nelson ran toward the sideline after passing the half-court line, looking for an open man and space to dissolve Louisville’s stout full-court press.
But disarray plagued the Anteaters at the wrong time, as Nelson was immediately met and shrouded by Terry Rozier and Blackshear, who would come up with the basketball and run the clock out.
The Cardinals were able to prevent a last-second shot attempt, leaving Nelson to lament his inability to give his team one last shot at glory.
“Not to even get a shot up, that is on me,” Nelson said. “Being the point guard and leader of this team, I have to make sure that my teammates are in the right spots so we can get a good shot up at the end of the game.
“It hurts not to even get a shot up. That is my job, and I have to make sure that I can create a shot for my teammates or myself.”
Late in the second half, the Cardinals went more than two and a half minutes without scoring a point, allowing the Anteaters to equalize late in a game where the largest lead for either team was five points.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, visibly relived that his team was able to secure the victory though things looked amiss, cited UC Irvine’s defensive prowess, particularly the stifling pressure applied to both Montrezl Harrell and Rozier, as the primary force that continually thwarted the Cardinal offense.
“It was a possession game, and they were playing zone,” Pitino said. “To be honest with you, Montrezl [Harrell] was not moving enough…and they played a box-in-one on Terry [Rozier].
“They were well-prepared and well-schooled to take away our strengths.”
Louisville will play Northern Iowa in the round of 32 on Sunday.