Louisville's 2nd-half comeback falls short Print
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Saturday, 29 March 2008 19:29
NCAAB Headline News


 CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Louisville suddenly looked like the team that had dominated late in the season. Shots were falling, Rick Pitino's famous press was working and the Cardinals had silenced the partisan North Carolina crowd.
But Louisville's second-half comeback wouldn't last. Top-seeded North Carolina was too imposing down low, too quick and had too many weapons, even for the deep Cardinals.
Pitino was denied his sixth trip to the Final Four and his second in four years with Louisville, as North Carolina recovered from blowing a 12-point second-half lead to beat the Cardinals 83-73 Saturday night in the East Regional final.
big shots and made big plays down the stretch.''
Turnovers and Hansbrough were the difference. The Cardinals (27-9) lost the ball 19 times and Hansbrough dominated David Padgett in a matchup of high-profile centers.
Hansbrough had 28 points and 13 rebounds. Padgett was held scoreless in the first half and finished with six points, eight rebounds and six assists in his final college game.
``It's disappointing. Our goal was to win the championship this year and it didn't happen,'' Padgett said. ``But we still had a pretty good year. We go to the Elite Eight and only eight teams get to do that.
Louisville made it interesting after the Tar Heels had seemingly taken command. Trailing 48-36 with 17:57 left, the Cardinals got going behind Jerry Smith. He hit two 3-pointers and had two layups, Andre McGee added a 3, and the full-court pressure was causing the Tar Heels to have trouble just getting it over half-court.
Suddenly Louisville had tied the game at 59 on Earl Clark's free throw with just over 10 minutes left.
``Our backs were against the wall, being down by 12. That's a situation for their team where they usually blow people out,'' McGee said. ``We persevered and did a pretty good job trying to fight back. But down the stretch they hit some real big shots and were able to pull away.''
While Louisville's late-season surge was based on depth and speed, the Tar Heels (36-2) beat them in both categories Saturday. Hansbrough's layup with 9:57 left put the Tar Heels ahead to stay.
Hansbrough added another jumper, then a free throw, and now Louisville had lost its rhythm amid a wave of North Carolina's fastbreak points. Pitino called timeouts, but they didn't stop the tide. The lead expanded, and the Cardinals finished a win shy of their goal.
Pitino shook North Carolina coach Roy Williams' hand, then chatted with Hansbrough after the final buzzer before patting him on the back.
Williams' secured his sixth Final Four berth, moving past Pitino into a tie for fourth all-time with former Louisville coach Denny Crum and Adolph Rupp of Kentucky.
One of the top questions for Louisville will be whether Williams decides to return for his senior season or turn pro. Williams said he'll meet with Pitino soon and then make a decision.
``Whatever he tells me. He's been there. He'll tell me if I'm ready,'' Williams said. ``He talks to the people who will tell me if I'm ready. It's all in his hands. I'll sit down with him and we'll go from there.''
There are no other options for Padgett, the Kansas transfer whose return from a broken kneecap earlier this season spearheaded Louisville's late-season run.
``I enjoyed my career here. It was the best four years of my life,'' Padgett said. ``I wish all these guys luck next year. We didn't get what we wanted, but we still had a good year.''
 

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