After Louisville struggled to put away Grand Canyon on the road before pulling out a 79-70 victory Saturday, Cardinals coach Rick Pitino had nothing but praise for the Antelopes.
It was a much more difficult game than many anticipated for No. 13 Louisville against Grand Canyon, a program still transitioning into Division I best-known for being coached by NBA veteran Dan Majerle. Pitino pointed to the tough road environment for the reason for their struggles to put the Antelopes away, praising the raucous crowd on hand.
"This in college basketball in my 40-plus years was the toughest crowd I ever faced," Pitino said. "It was awesome. I don't know how -- I don't know a whole lot about Grand Canyon except for us doing Dan a favor coming out here. I probably would have lost my job if I had lost by doing people favors. But you have something really special here."
As you are likely aware, Louisville plays in the vaunted Atlantic Coast Conference -- one of the toughest leagues in the country. What about going to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Duke and the Cameron Crazies? The Cardinals also play at in-state rival Kentucky at Rupp Arena every other season.
But Pitino claims those crowds don't measure up to Grand Canyon's.
"Whether we go to Duke, Kentucky... nothing was as tough as that environment tonight," Pitino said. "They orchestrated on a timeout with music and the band so you can't hear one word in the timeout. They have more students that come to one of our games. So I'm extremely grateful we won. And I'm really impressed with what you have here."
So maybe playing Grand Canyon on the road and saying it's the toughest he's faced is a little bit of hyperbole from Pitino. But, the Antelopes were in the Division II tournament just three years ago and Grand Canyon Arena can seat 7,000 including a rowdy student section, known as the "Havoc," which has quietly created one of the most raucous college basketball environments in the country. As you can see from some of the videos taken from the game the "Havoc" showed up and had the atmosphere lit.