Louisville sophomore Chane Behanan took a couple of long strides inside the three-point line and sized up a dunk. As he approached the basket, he elevated with no defender in sight. A day after proclaiming that top-seeded Louisville was set to put on a show in the NCAA Tournament, Behanan had a chance to back up his words.
Behanan’s long arms didn’t stretch quite far enough, and he was treated to a rather embarrassing rejection by the front of the rim.
OK, so maybe it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Louisville in its opening game against 16th-seeded North Carolina A But it was darn close.
Louisville jumped out to commanding 20-point lead in the first half and rolled to a 79-48 win against an overmatched North Carolina A team Thursday evening at Rupp Arena. The Cardinals will face Colorado State on Saturday.
“I think this game was very important for us, because it’s the time you have some jitters and you have to play through it,” said point guard Peyton Siva, who had six points and eight assists. “For the most part, everyone came out and played well.”
They played like a team deserving of its No. 1 overall seed — and possibly one ready to embark on an extended postseason run.
Before they did, Louisville coach Rick Pitino kept the pregame routine as normal as possible Thursday. In this case, that meant setting a goal for what Pitino thinks is the most important statistic of any game — deflections.
He circled 40 as the objective. Louisville finished with 67 — which Pitino says is the highest of any team in his coaching career.
Russ Smith had 23 points, but Pitino pointed to his eight steals as evidence that his go-to player is focused at the right time.
“He was really, really good tonight mentally as well as physically,” Pitino said of Smith. “He truly has arrived into a great basketball player.”
That’s a dangerous thought for Louisville’s future opponents.
An equally challenging task will be finding a way to counter Louisville’s depth. Eight players scored for Louisville by halftime. The Cardinals shot 57 percent for the game. And Siva — the team’s leading scorer — didn’t even attempt a shot for the first 17 minutes of the game.
“I was just worried about defense, because that’s what takes you to the next game,” Siva said. “I think we played great defense. Some of those things went our way.”