In early March, as Louisville advanced through the Big East tournament, Rick Pitino recalled telling Louisville guard Peyton Siva something important.
Win four games here in New York and bring home a championship, and people will forget about the regular season, he said.
Big East championship: Completed. National title run: Still in Progress.
The Cardinals will take on Florida in the Elite Eight on Saturday afternoon for the right to go the Final Four in New Orleans.
The persistent storyline, of course, has been Rick Pitino, former coach at Providence College, and Billy Donovan, former guard at Providence under Pitino, matching up the NCAA tournament, creating that juicy mentor/mentee lede.
But let’s step away from the storylines and focus on the court, where these two teams have one things in common: they’ve had their critics this season.
Though Kentucky has been dominant in the SEC this year and Florida struggled though a stretch where they lost 4-of-5 toward the end of the year, Donovan’s Gators have been impressive in the NCAA tournament.
After beating Virginia by 26, Florida took down upset-minded Norfolk State by 34, then sent Marquette home with a double-digit victory.
Much of the credit goes to Bradley Beal and his emergence in key spots.
Beal took his freshman lumps at times during the regular season, but has averaged 16 points and almost nine rebounds per game in the NCAA tournament and was the biggest reason Florida was able to beat Marquette in the Sweet 16 and advance.
For Louisville, it has been about defense. As questions about their ability to shoot the ball with consistency linger, the Cardinals held Michigan State to just 29% shooting in their Sweet 16 victory and forced 15 turnovers.
Peyton Siva was strong in the Round of 64 game against Davidson, but hasn’t been nearly as effective since, including going 2-for-9 from the floor against Michigan State.
Louisville-Florida will make for an interesting matchup in the backcourt, with two guard-heavy teams going at it. Look for Siva, Russ and Chris Smith, and Kyle Kuric matched up with the Gators’ Beal, Erving Walker, and Kenny Boynton.
Tip is at 4:30 p.m.