INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The speed. The quickness. The penchant for causing chaos and mayhem. The ability to take a manageable game and turn it into a blowout in a matter of seconds.
Yeah, Dana Altman and his Oregon Ducks know exactly what they’re up against with Louisville and that hair-on-fire defense. They’ve been watching the Oregon football team wreak the same kind of havoc for years now.
“It’s almost the same situation that our football team runs into when teams are trying to get ready for them. They play so much faster and their team speed is different,” Altman said Thursday. “I don’t think teams can really get ready for our football team. … And I don’t think we can prepare for the speed of Louisville: their quickness, their guard quickness, their overall team speed and the different looks they throw at you.
“They beat people up mentally as much as physically,” Altman added. “If you’re not focused, if you make a mistake, they get those runs that they just turn a game around.”
The 12th-seeded Ducks (28-8) reached the regional semifinals for the first time since 2007, and their reward is a Friday night date with Louisville.
The Cardinals (31-5) looked every bit the overall top seed in their first two games, routing North Carolina A&T and Colorado State by an average of 28.5 points while forcing 47 turnovers. Both the Aggies and Rams finished with more turnovers than field goals, and Louisville outrebounded Colorado State — no minor stat against a team that had both the nation’s best rebounding margin and the top rebounding tandem in Colton Iverson and Pierce Hornung.
The numbers are even scarier in Louisville’s current 12-game winning streak. The Cardinals have held their opponents to fewer than 55 points and 38 percent shooting during the run, and forced an average of almost 19 turnovers. Only one opponent, Syracuse on March 2, has gotten within single digits at the final buzzer.
“Coach P really gets his teams to play really well around this time of March,” point guard Peyton Siva said. “Right now, we’re just trying to continue to keep on the roll.”
While defense is the trademark of any Rick Pitino team, these Cardinals have just about perfected his soul-sucking press. There are so many hands in opponents’ faces it looks as if the Cardinals have an extra man or two on the floor. Lanes that were wide-open are suddenly clogged. Open shots simply don’t exist.
And woe to anyone who has the misfortune of bringing the ball up. He’ll be gasping for air by the time he reaches midcourt, the pressure is so suffocating.
The worst part? It’s impossible to truly prepare for it, especially during the NCAA tournament’s short turnarounds.
“All you really can do is get ready for it, talk about it, know what you’re going to have to do against it, have some break presses installed,” Oregon forward E.J. Singler said. “That’s what we’ve been doing this past week, really focusing in on breaking the press and being really strong with the ball and limiting our turnovers.”
To mimic the smothering effect of Louisville’s press, Oregon has been practicing with an extra player on the floor. But unless Usain Bolt dropped by, there’s no way the Ducks could duplicate the Cardinals’ speed.
“There’s not really a lot you can do,” Singler said.
The key is getting the ball across half-court. Do that, and the Ducks are confident their offense can wreak some havoc of its own.
They shot 50 percent from 3-point range against Oklahoma State and Saint Louis. Three players — Damyean Dotson, Carlos Emory and Singler — averaged 11 points or better.
“The half-court offense, they move the ball really well,” Siva said. “They’re shooting lights out — they were 8 for 11 (from 3-point range) against Saint Louis. That’s going to pose a matchup problem for anybody. We have to contain the 3-point line, contain the offensive glass and I think we’ll be OK.”
Force some turnovers, too.
The Ducks had 36 turnovers in their first two NCAA tournament games, three above their season average. Do that against Louisville, and the Oregon will be in for a very long evening.
“We’ve got to try and clean it up a little bit,” Altman said. “We’re going to make mistakes. I told the guys that. We’ve just got to play through them. Louisville does a great job of multiplying those mistakes into a number of baskets, and we’ve got to do a great job of just trying to keep that number down to a manageable level.”