As opposed to another cross-country flight following their win over New Mexico on Saturday night in Portland, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino had his team fly directly to Phoenix.
Not only did the move stave off some added travel fatigue but it’s also allowed the Cardinals to focus more on preparation for Thursday night’s game against top-seed Michigan State.
The Cardinals stayed a half hour outside of Phoenix to better manage the distractions, and a team that hadn’t been out of the first round since 2009 is 40 minutes away from the Elite 8.
“You lose again in the first round, it’s three years in a row, and that’s a whole different kind of pressure coming on you,” remarked guard Kyle Kuric. “But now it’s kind of like a more exciting kind of pressure. If you win, you move on to the Elite Eight.”
Pitino also noted just how important it was for this group, which didn’t enter this year’s tournament with a great deal of experience in postseason play, to win the Big East Championship in New York.
“Now they get to this point and they’re so excited. And I’m trying to get them to realize they’re just two games away from the Final Four, but I don’t try to speak about it too much because this is a group that doesn’t have a lot of tournament experience. But I felt it was so crucial, because of that lack of experience, to win the Big East Tournament.”
Given the history of Big East teams in the West Region, it is interesting (but not rare) that the Cardinals have been able to use the distance between themselves and Louisville to their benefit.
Of the 16 trips to the Final Four made by Big East teams (since the conference began play in 1979-80), nine have advanced as champions of the West Region (UConn’s 2009 trip came out of the Phoenix Region).
Could history be on Louisville’s side? Maybe, but Marquette (3-seed in the West) could be hoping for the same benefit.