The third quadrant of games on Thursday produced a couple of results on opposite ends of the spectrum. In Lexington, No. 1 overall seed Louisville showed why they were rewarded by the selection committee, while over in San Jose, No. 5 UNLV showed why many felt they were one of the most vulnerable high seeds of the opening rounds.
First things first, and that’s Louisville. Earlier in the day we saw a highly criticized No. 1 seed struggle to pull away from a 16-seed. The Cardinals would have none of that, as they came out looking to dominate North Carolina A&T from the opening tip, and dominate they did. Louisville scored more points in the first half (47) than New Mexico State did all game (44) earlier in the day in a blowout loss to Saint Louis. Lousville won both halves by 15 or more points to finish with a 31-point spread. They shot over 57 per cent from the field while holding A&T below 42 per cent. They out-rebounded A&T 28-19. Louisville had 20 steals and forced 25 A&T turnovers.
No matter how you analyze it, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals looked every part the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, especially when you consider all of the pre-tourney talk of parity and a lack of truly dominant squads.
As for those UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, they were one of the teams picked as potential upset victims due to the fact that they had barely beaten Cal earlier in the season and that they had to play California in California. That home court advantage surely played a part in the Cal triumph, but the Runnin’ Rebels were also nowhere near their best. I mentioned above how Louisville came out looking to dominate from the start, well UNLV didn’t look like they were ready to play until they staged a late rally that ultimately came up short. No play summarized this more than when California’s Allen Crabbe grabbed the offensive rebound on his own missed free throw with just 40 seconds remaining, despite the fact that he was the only Golden Bear in a sea of three Runnin’ Rebel players.
Crabbe was undoubtedly the player of the game, posting 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals for California, who will meet a Syracuse team in the Round of 32 that is currently drilling Montana by 30 points early in the second half.
For UNLV, the biggest disappointment will likely be felt by Canadian big man Anthony Bennett, as the star freshman and potential top-five pick in June’s NBA Draft didn’t have nearly the impact he would have hoped for in this game while being consistently double teamed, though he did finish with a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds.