Louisville, the No. 4 seed in the East Region, took down conference foe NC State, 75-65 , to advance to the program’s third Elite Eight in the last four years.
Terry Rozier led the way with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Montrezl Harrell had a game-high 24 points. Although, arguably the biggest contribution came from reserve guard Anton Gill, the Raleigh, North Carolina native. The sophomore guard was called upon in the second half after Wayne Blackshear picked up his fourth foul with 8:30 remaining. Gill responded by scoring seven of Louisville’s points during a critical 12-3 run.
NC State was up 54-53 when Gill connected on a go-ahead jumper. He followed that with a 3-pointer. After a pair of Rozier free throws, Gill knifed through the lane for a layup.
To put this all in perspective, Gill hadn’t scored a single point since Feb. 28 in a win over Florida State.
That was a month ago. It was during that time that the Cardinals stood at a crossroad in their season. Rick Pitino had dismissed senior guard Chris Jones from the program earlier that week, a necessary move after several off the court incidents. Without one of their top defensive pieces, the Cardinals had their questions entering March. Yet once again, Pitino has the Cards as one of the last eight teams standing:
In his past 20 seasons as a college coach, Rick Pitino has made the Elite Eight 11 times. Remarkable.
— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) March 28, 2015
Tom Izzo has received credit, and rightfully so, for another NCAA tournament run with Michigan State, a team Louisville could potentially face in Sunday’s East Regional final. But Pitino deserves some of his own for the work he’s done with this roster. Sure, Louisville has future NBA Draft picks Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier, but he’s also had to rely heavily on freshman guard Quentin Snider, and has been forced to turn to players like Gill. Even without Jones, Louisville’s defense has been effective, holding teams to under 40 percent shooting in the last two tournament games.
Critics will say Pitino has had an easy route to the Elite Eight. Northern Iowa was underseeded at No. 5, don’t make any mistake about that. Take a look at NC State’s roster. It doesn’t really fit a No. 8 seed’s profile. The Wolfpack proved talent was there with wins over Duke, North Carolina and Louisville. But losses to Wake Forest, Boston College and Wofford explain their inconsistency.
Pitino is one-game shy of another trip to the Final Four. A place that seemed unlikely a month ago.