Midwest Regional | Edge: Louisville-Arizona
DAYTON, Ohio -- The crushing full-court press wasn't getting anything done against unflappable Siena. A double-digit lead had evaporated. And, from those black folding chairs on the Louisville bench to the plastic red-and-blue seats all around the arena, it was clear to everyone that the top-seeded team was starting to panic.
Coach Rick Pitino called a timeout and made a challenge.
"You've got to prove to yourselves now you're a great basketball team," he told the rattled players.
His carefree senior got the message. Terrence Williams rallied the teetering-but-not-toppled Cardinals to a 79-72 victory Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament, putting Louisville in the round of 16 for the second straight year.
Williams had 24 points, 15 rebounds and one saving play after another after Pitino urged someone to step up in the last seven minutes.
"Only he has that type of ability to hear a voice, perform it, get it, and do it," Pitino said.
Louisville (30-5) will play 12th-seeded Arizona in the Midwest Regional on Friday in Indianapolis, riding a 12-game winning streak that was very much in doubt in the closing minutes. Siena (27-8) overcame a 12-point deficit in the second half and led by four before Williams took over, hitting 3s, getting rebounds and starting fast breaks with one-handed passes.
Edwin Ubiles scored 24 points for the Saints, who handled Louisville's full-court pressure and then applied some of their own. The Cardinals headed to the bench for a timeout with stunned expressions after Clarence Jackson's lay-in put Siena up 63-59 with 7:20 to go.
"Yeah, we thought we had them," said Kenny Hasbrouck, who scored 11 points. "We were running them up and down. We kept up with them every time. But unfortunately, I guess a team that's good, there's a reason they're No. 1."
The reason was Williams.
He's known as the Cardinals' most carefree player. He showed his big-game cool by dancing at midcourt before a first-round win over Morehead State, then skipped across the court on Sunday during pregame introductions. When he landed out of bounds in the first half, ending up on a photographer's camera, he picked it up and looked through the viewfinder.
So when the pressure was on, he was the obvious choice.
"It's pressure if you guys are thinking about it," Williams said. "If it's us, it's not really pressure. We're just playing basketball."
He immediately drove for a basket and hit a 3-pointer that changed the momentum. He had nine points, five rebounds, a steal and a pair of one-handed passes for fast-break layups the rest of the way.
"He definitely stepped up," said Earl Clark, who added 12 points and 12 rebounds. "I expect that from him. He's our leader and he's a great player, one of the best forwards in the country."
Louisville had won its last 11 games and the Big East regular-season and tournament titles by applying the pressure -- full-court, nonstop. The Saints handled it without much problem -- only nine turnovers -- and applied a little of their own in the second half, making it a game.
They had no answer for Williams.
"When the team was sputtering, he made some plays," Siena coach Fran McCaffery said.
Williams' two free throws with 35 seconds left put Louisville ahead 76-69 and ended the Saints' upset chances. The loss extended the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's history of never having a team reach the round of 16.
This one came as close as any.
Siena has a starting five that's good enough to play with the best. The bench? Not much there. McCaffery played his five starters for the last 24 minutes of a double-overtime upset over Ohio State in the first round, showing how little he trusts his reserves.
Given that lack of depth, the Saints seemed due for a full-court meltdown in the second half. Four of their five starters played 18 minutes or more in the first half, which ended with Louisville ahead 42-35.
At the outset, the second half belonged to the birds.
Louisville forced a couple of turnovers and pulled ahead 52-40 on Williams' 3-pointer from the left corner. During the next timeout, a bird -- no, not a cardinal -- that had been flying around University of Dayton Arena all weekend decided landed on the blue NCAA logo at midcourt.
A good harbinger? Not for the Cardinals.
Jackson had a putback, a 3-pointer and two lay-ins during a 12-0 run that was set up by turnovers and got the vastly outnumbered Saints crowd on its feet, sensing a huge upset in the making. Louisville players walked to the bench with heads down during the next timeout, unsure who would lead them the rest of the way.
Only Williams knew.