Texas A&M faces Louisville's tough defense, rabid fans

Posted: March 17, 2007

LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Texas A&M (26-6) goes to battle against Louisville (24-9) today in an NCAA tournament second-round contest at Rupp Arena, the Aggies' problems will be twofold.

Not only must they contend with an all-court pressure defense that the Cardinals used to dismantle Stanford in a first-round outing on Thursday, but A&M also has to overcome a legion of red-wearing Louisville fans who traveled a little over an hour in hopes of seeing their team advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

With a vocal and overwhelmingly pro-Louisville crowd of more than 20,000 on hand Thursday, the Cardinals advanced with a 78-58 victory over Stanford that wasn't even as close as the final score would indicate.

"We've played in a lot of places in a hostile environment, and we're sure it'll be that way tomorrow," said A&M coach Billy Gillispie, whose No. 3-seeded team eliminated Penn on Thursday with a 68-52 win. "But any team that's lucky enough to be in the tournament, I think you waste time and energy worrying about where you're playing and who your opponent is."

Certainly, a more tangible problem for A&M is Louisville's defense. The No. 6 Cardinals are a deep team, and their effort at that end of the court is nonstop. Coach Rick Pitino would have it no other way.

"We live and die with our defense, and that's one thing Coach is proud of," said Louisville's Andre McGee, a 5-10 sophomore who is one of four Cardinal guards who rotate in and out. "It's a fun way to play. Forcing turnovers. Trying to get out on the break. Getting steals."

In A&M's favor is 6-3 Acie Law IV, a very quick and slick senior ball handler who's not likely to get rattled, as Stanford's guard did when faced with the commotion and disruption that Louisville can cause when it goes after the man with the ball.

Law, a sure-fire all-American who will be in the NBA next season, made the key plays his team needed to get by a Penn squad that put a little heat on A&M at a couple of junctures before going down.

He will have to do the same against Louisville, though the Aggies are not exactly a one-man show, and their own brand of physical half-court defense held opponents to 37.2 percent shooting this season.

Stanford fell behind Louisville by 25-10 and 41-13.

"Coach said [A&M] will be prepared for our press," said Louisville guard Edgar Sosa, a 6-1 freshman. "They have Acie Law, the No. 1 point guard in the country, but we still want to put pressure on the ball."

Law knows the challenge Louisville presents.

"They like get into you, force you to speed it up, and get you out of your game," Law said. "Usually a team will pressure, but once you break the initial part of the press, the guards tend to back off a little bit. But Louisville continues to pressure throughout the whole possession. You have to always be under control and know what's going on, because every time you let your guard down, they are going to attack you."

Pitino said his team's fans may be more helpful today than they were two days ago.

"We're certainly happy we didn't have to travel far, but I think where the crowd helps you in certain games is where you're down five," he said. "Sometimes, young teams can give in. The crowd stops you from giving in, and helps you to fight to keep it close. Although the crowd was awesome [on Thursday], it wasn't a necessity for us because we got on our great run very early because of our defense."

Notes. In the first game of a doubleheader, top-seeded Ohio State (31-3) will meet No. 9 Xavier (25-8). Buckeyes coach Thad Matta was in charge of the Musketeers for three seasons before moving to his current job in 2004.

Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum

at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.

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