N.C. A&T ready for herculean tournament task against Louisville

jjones@charlotteobserver.comMarch 20, 2013 

— After securing the program’s first NCAA tournament win Tuesday night, N.C. A&T men’s basketball coach Cy Alexander took his team for a steak and shrimp dinner.

The Aggies were hours separated from a 73-72 win against Liberty in the first-round game and Alexander told players after the meal to return to their rooms and focus on No. 1 Louisville (29-5), their second round opponent Thursday at 6:50 p.m.

Wednesday morning, his team watched the first half of Sunday’s Big East championship game, when Louisville trailed Syracuse 35-22. But they didn’t see the second half, when the Cardinals went on a 27-3 run to seal the win.

Alexander and his coaching staff watched the complete game Tuesday night.

“It showed me just how potent Louisville can be,” Alexander said of the run. “The speed of their guards is really impressive to me. I watched a couple of games today, and (Russ) Smith and (Peyton) Siva are really quick with the basketball. They’re going to get after you with their pressure.”

N.C. A&T (20-16) will try to become the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1.

Alexander said he hopes Louisville’s defense, and the pressure of playing the tournament’s top overall seed, doesn’t affect his team’s play.

The Aggies, who won the MEAC tournament championship last weekend, are coming off one of their best shooting performances this season. They made 51.9 percent against Liberty to capture the school’s first NCAA tournament win in 10 tries.

The historic victory prompted congratulations from the school’s president, its athletic director and perhaps its most well-known alumnus, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. He called Alexander minutes before the coach’s afternoon news conference in Rupp Arena.

A victory against Louisville would be even more historic. No. 16 seeds have an all-time 0-112 record against the top seed in a region.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino said earlier this season he believed this could be the year the winless streak for 16 seeds ends.

“I hope we wait a little bit,” Pitino joked. “Eventually it’s going to happen. I can tell you one thing – we have great respect for A&T and the way they play. They’re a veteran ball club. They don’t have a whole lot of fear when they play.”

Rupp Arena, home of Louisville’s bitter rival Kentucky, will likely be flooded with red and white in Thursday’s game as Cardinals fans make the trip to Lexington. Alexander voiced concern about how his team might react to the Cardinals’ strong following.

Alexander said his team can’t afford to start slowly and trail early by double-digits. Louisville beat nine teams by 20 or more points this season.

“You have to disregard what happened in the regular season,” said Louisville’s Siva. “You can’t think of nothing in that sense, because everybody is playing well, everybody is on a roll and hot. So everybody is full of confidence.”

And Alexander is full of superstition.

Before he left Greensboro this week, the first-year coach packed three suits. Of the two remaining, he doesn’t know which one he’ll wear Thursday, but both choices carry good memories.

“I didn’t bring anything I lost games in,” Alexander said. “Trust me.”

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