No hint, not one, of any first game apprehension for the No. 1 seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, a University of Louisville basketball team getting down to business, ousting North Carolina A&T 79-48.
UofL fans turned out en masse, easily dominating the crowd of 23,000-plus, owning Rupp Arena, largely under the supervision of blue-jacketed ushers, seemingly wanting to make the visitors from the West as comfortable as possible, even in the bleacher seats.
Denny Crum was there, along with Darrell Griffith, autographing photos in a pre-game party for alums at the Hyatt Regency. Richard Pitino was on hand, back to support dad and his former team. Jesse Jackson, Sr., an A&T grad, was there glad-handing everyone in reach.
They were anticipating another stifling defensive show from Rick Pitino’s troops and they wouldn’t be disappointed. The Cardinals allowed the Aggies only one field goal in the first 10 minutes. For the night they would deflect the ball 67 times while forcing 27 turnovers and racking up an NCAA tournament record 20 steals.
So intent they were on making steals, they may have lost focus on other aspects late in the first half, allowing A&T to cut 21-point lead to 14 points with a bevy of three-pointers.
Russ Smith would “steal” the show, as usual, this time chalking up an individual NCAA record of eight steals, sharing the loot with Peyton Siva who was good for four more. Wayne Blackshear got in on the act, picking pockets four steals himself. Never mind that Smith, Siva and Blackshear were turning the ball over eight times between them, the damage had been done.
Russ would turn most of those steals into points, complementing those fearless drives into the A&T trees around the basket, making good on 10 of 16 field goal attempts and leading all scorers with 23 points.
Fans will never know for certain whether A&T was a decent team or just another 16 seed because UofL’s defense robbed them of any opportunity to get started.