Saints have earned spot on big stage

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino compared Siena to mid-major powerhouses Gonzaga and Xavier. And he

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino compared Siena to mid-major powerhouses Gonzaga and Xavier.

And he didn’t need Siena’s 74-72 double-overtime victory over Ohio State on Friday to be convinced, he said this on Thursday.

To be included in discussions about those programs shows how far the Saints have come in four seasons under coach Fran McCaffery.

Today, they’ll get a chance to reach even greater heights, but they’ll have to do it against the overall top-seeded team in the NCAA tournament, the two-time national champion Louisville Cardinals (29-5). Starting time for the Midwest Region second-round game will be approximately 5:20 p.m. Louisville is an 11 1⁄2-point favorite.

For the third time in program history and the second year in a row, Siena (27-7) is in position to reach the Sweet 16, after losing to another Big East school, Villanova, in the second round last year.

No matter what happens at the University of Dayton Arena today, the Saints have gained a foothold in the top level of the mid-majors, after beating teams from the Southeastern Conference (Vanderbilt) and Big Ten in the NCAAs the last two years.

“I think we’ve got to that level where we can match up with anybody in the country,” senior co-captain Kenny Hasbrouck, McCaffery’s first recruit at Siena, said. “I think teams saw that we can play with everybody. We have a chance to win every time we do play. He [Pitino] gave us a lot of respect for saying that, but I do agree with him.”

“I appreciate coach’s comments, and I think honestly our goal is to be a Gonzaga or a Xavier,” McCaffery said. “We have made steps in that direction, but I don’t think we have accomplished as much over the same length of time. You’re talking about programs, over 10 years, and in Xavier’s case almost 15 years, where they’ve been successful in their conferences. We have had patches of success, and I think the challenge for us is to continue what we have going right now. We’re on our way.”

As difficult as the Cardinals, with a roster studded with future NBA players, will be to beat, the Saints don’t believe that winning one game in the tournament is enough.

They did that last year.

“I think when you talk about sense of satisfaction, you can look at that when you’re at your banquet. Not today,” McCaffery said.

So Siena spent Saturday form­ulating a game plan to defeat Louis­ville, which has made the Sweet 16 16 times and won championships in 1980 and 1986 under Denny Crum.

Sure, there were lingering questions on Saturday about Friday’s wild finish, but Siena point guard Ronald Moore figured to be a topic of conversation in the lead-up to the Louisville game whether he was the hero against Ohio State or not, since the Cardinals are known for a relentless, 40-minute fullcourt press.

His game-winning three-pointer with 3.9 seconds left was a staple of the late-night highlight shows. Moore also made a three with 3.5 second left in the first overtime to tie the game, and on Saturday, he was still politely basking in the afterglow of the biggest game of his life.

“I had a lot of text messages, Facebook, a lot of friend requests and stuff like that,” he said, drawing laughter from the media during the afternoon press conference. “I’m happy that a lot of people congrat­ulated me, but I don’t want people to think it was just me that won the game.”

And it won’t be just Moore who will have to be sharp against Louis­ville’s press, it will take everyone on the floor.

Siena uses pressure defense, too, and the Cardinals, led by the effervescent John Wooden Award cand­idate Terrence Williams, present a profoundly different challenge than OSU, which prefers a halfcourt game.

No. 16 Morehead State stayed with Louisville in the first half, but wore down against the non-stop, in-your-face pressure.

The Saints are fast and take care of the ball, but Pitino ranks this Cardinals press as the best since he came to the school eight seasons ago.

“You’re hustling like that, getting steals, going down to the other end, getting easy points, it’s like a dog smelling blood,” Louisville point guard Andre McGee said.

“Earl Clark and T-Will are are very good anticipators, they know the pressure has to start in the backcourt,” Pitino said. “Andre McGee is as good as it gets with applying pressure, and once the pressure is beaten, how good is your back pursuit? That’s what makes every press go. We don’t give up too many layups, because of our back pursuit.”

“You really can’t try to handle the press, it’s really about attacking it,” Moore said. “We want to go and really get the ball up the floor, get the ball in quick so they can’t get set up in their press.”

“I’d rather have somebody up into me where I can get past them,” Hasbrouck said. “We’re going to try to attack what they’re doing and not be passive.

“The thing is, Louisville runs a lot, and we run a lot, too, so I think it’s going to play into who has more energy at the end of the game.”

The logical assumption is that Louisville has the edge there, no matter what, since Siena played to two overtimes on Friday night in a game that didn’t get done until 12:18 a.m. Saturday.

Both teams dismissed the notion that the Saints will be tired, though.

“They had a day off just like we did,” Louisville guard Jerry Smith said.

“This team does a lot of things defensively like Villanova, with the way they three-quarter court trap falling back to a 3-2, changing their defenses, great on the break,” Pitino said.

“Their point guard is probably one of the fastest and best decision-makers we will see all year.”

“Their starting five, obviously, is one of the best starting fives in the nation, but off the bench, they don’t slack off, either,” Hasbrouck said. “They basically have the total package for a team.”

Categories: College Sports, News

Leave a Reply