GAME: No. 5 Georgia Tech (20-11) vs. No. 4 Louisville (30-4).
REGIONAL: Albuquerque, second round.
TIME: Sunday, 4:45 p.m. EST.
SITE: Gaylord Entertainment Center, Nashville, Tenn.
Before they got through the first round, some of Georgia Tech’s players were already gearing up for Louisville.
After breezing through their opener, the Yellow Jackets look to upset Rick Pitino’s Cardinals as they meet in the second round of the Albuquerque Regional.
The Yellow Jackets, who topped George Washington 80-68 on Friday to advance, had scanned the bracket before the tournament and realized Louisville could be an early opponent.
“We’d love to play a great team like that,” Georgia Tech senior Luke Schenscher said.
Jarrett Jack, Will Bynum and B.J. Elder combined to score on six straight possessions in the second half Friday as the Yellow Jackets enjoyed the most lopsided win of the opening games at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.
Last year, the Yellow Jackets never won by more than eight points during their march to the championship game.
“When you have a little breathing room at the end of the game, it definitely feels good,” said Elder, who finished with 15 points and five rebounds. “This didn’t come down to the wire and give us a heart attack.”
Georgia Tech took control with a 12-0 run in the second half. The Yellow Jackets finished 17-of-22 at the free-throw line, compared to 4-of-16 for George Washington.
Georgia Tech returned almost its entire team from last season in 2004-05, but the Yellow Jackets were far from certain to make this year’s tournament until the last week of the regular season. They finished strong, beating Clemson in their regular-season finale and stunning North Carolina to reach the championship of the ACC tournament.
They lost to Duke in the title game, but came into the tournament with momentum.
Louisville, meanwhile, had a far different experience in the first round, escaping with a 68-63 win over No. 13 Louisiana-Lafayette on Friday.
“Even at halftime, we said look guys, you think you’re going to blow this team out, you’re mistaken. It’s coming down to last 2 minutes,” Pitino said.
Francisco Garcia went 7-for-7 from the foul line in the final 1:57, finishing with 27 points to help Louisville reach the second round for the second time in three years under Pitino, who’s 28-9 in the NCAA tournament.
Pitino said he had tried to warn his Cardinals that the Ragin’ Cajuns were the toughest first-round opponent he had seen in 10 tournament appearances.
There were eight lead changes in the second half before Louisville finally went ahead for good, 56-55 on two free throws by Larry O’Bannon with 3:43 to go. The Cardinals were held to one field goal the rest of the way – Otis George’s tip-in – but made eight more free throws to seal the victory.
“Now we know that we’ve got to play every possession like our last,” Louisville junior Taquan Dean said.
O’Bannon scored 13 points and Dean has 12 for Louisville, which lost in the first round to Xavier in 2004.
Sunday’s winner will take on top-seeded Washington or No. 8 seed Pacific in the regional semifinals Thursday.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Georgia Tech – F Anthony McHenry (4.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg), C Schenscher (10.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg), G Elder (13.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg), G Jack (15.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg), G Will Bynum (12.5 ppg, 2.5 apg). Louisville – F Juan Palacios (9.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg), F Garcia (15.7 ppg, 3.9 apg), F Ellis Myles (10.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg), G Dean (14.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg), G O’Bannon (14.9, 3.4 rpg).
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Georgia Tech – At-large berth, ACC; beat No. 12 seed George Washington 80-68, first round. Louisville – Automatic bid, Conference USA tournament champion; beat No. 13 seed Louisiana-Lafayette 68-62, first round.
ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Georgia Tech – 22-13, 14 years. Louisville – 50-33, 32 years.