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Pitino looking to bring third team to Final Four

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

March 24, 2005 | ESPN.com's NCAA Tournament coverage

Rick Pitino and his Louisville Cardinals have sent a message loud and clear on their way to the Elite Eight.

Yes, before the NCAA Tournament, there was some media debate over Louisville's seeding. I know we at ESPN addressed it on Selection Sunday when the Cardinals, 19-1 in their previous 20 games and ranked fourth in both polls, were handed a No. 4 seed.

Rick Pitino
Shout it out: Rick Pitino is one step away from taking a record third program to the Final Four.
Obviously, there was a mistake in seeding Louisville No. 4 – just ask coaches Paul Hewitt of Georgia Tech and Lorenzo Romar of Washington, whose teams suffered double-digit losses to Louisville in this tournament.

For those who wondered about Louisville's seed, the Cardinals defeated No. 1-seed Washington on Thursday night the right way, playing hard for 40 minutes and controlling the tempo against an outstanding Huskies team. In the end, Louisville was able to go up and down the floor, hit 3-pointers, play solid defense and walk away with a convincing 93-79 victory.

What a journey it has been for the Cardinals and Pitino. Is there any doubt that the man is a basketball genius? Louisville has returned to the national spotlight, and rightfully so. Everywhere Pitino has been, it has been the same theme – success through hard work, hard work, hard work.

He has rebuilt this program quickly, and now he is one win away from being the first coach in NCAA history to take three schools to the Final Four, baby!

He led Providence to the Final Four in 1987. His Kentucky Wildcats won the national championship in 1996, fell just short in the 1997 title game, lost in the national semifinals in 1993 and enjoyed two other Elite Eight trips ('92, '95).

Think about this: Eleven coaches have taken two schools to the Final Four. That impressive list includes Pitino, Eddie Sutton, Lute Olson, Lou Henson and Larry Brown.

Pitino has gotten a lot out of this team. Imagine if Donta Smith and Sebastian Telfair hadn't gone to the NBA and were wearing Louisville jerseys. The talent would have been incredible, but the chemistry might have been interesting to see.

Larry O'Bannon has developed into a third scorer to complement Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean. Garcia and Dean combined for 24 first-half points against Washington as Louisville built a 12-point lead the Cardinals never gave back.

Juan Palacios helps Ellis Myles on the glass. Louisville is capable of beating teams by slowing it down and keeping the game in the 50s or by going up-tempo and running and gunning and scoring in the 90s.

Pitino is a great coach because he is capable of adjusting and adapting to the situation. As a coach, he is 7-0 in the Sweet 16, winning by an average of more than 20 points per game. He also finally got a win over Romar, who had won their two prior meetings, but this was the one that really counted.

This was a brilliant performance against a Washington team that featured great balance and quickness. The Huskies were bothered by foul trouble, with Nate Robinson and Tre Simmons plagued by fouls in the first half.

It was a five-star performance for the Cardinals, and now Pitino is one win away from another Final Four and a piece of history.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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