Louisville and North Carolina A&T say they are too focused on the task at hand to feel pressured.
U of L (29-5), the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, will meet A&T in Rupp Arena for a second-round game Thursday at 6:50 p.m. The Aggies won their "First Four" game over Liberty, 73-72, Tuesday.
"In everybody's mind, we're expected to lose. There's really no pressure on us," A&T 6-foot-8 senior wing Austin Witter said. "We have no reason to come out nervous. All the pressure is on Louisville. We're going to come out and play them hard and tough, and going to try and go out and get the win."
Fine, but U of L apparently is focused on a win, too.
Senior guard Peyton Siva hasn't forgotten Louisville's first-round loss to Morehead State two years ago. That shocker helped fuel U of L's run to the 2012 Final Four.
"We just took it game by game, day by day, and didn't worry about who were the next people we played," Siva said of last year's — and this year's — mind-set. "And for me, it was just about being under control in the games, go out there and do whatever I could do and just continue to lead my team whether it be scoring, defense, passing or whatever, and that's what Coach wants us to do."
Coach being Rick Pitino, who knows pressure well.
Pitino recalled coaching a top-seeded Kentucky team in 1996, a heavy favorite to beat San Jose State.
The Wildcats came through with a 110-72 romp, yet led only 47-41 at halftime.
"Sometimes those (top-seeded) teams get tight," Pitino said. "You relax and play your game, and focus on forgetting the seed. Just focus on the opponent."
North Carolina A&T (20-16), winner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tourney, is led by 6-6 Adrian Powell (12.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and 6-3 Lamont Middleton (12.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg). Then come 6-4 Jean Louisme (9.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg), 6-7 Bruce Beckford (8.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Witter (6.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg).
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After Tuesday's win at Dayton, Ohio, Aggies Coach Cy Alexander watched Louisville's Big East Tournament championship victory over Syracuse, a game in which the Cardinals came from 16 points down in the second half.
"It showed me just how potent Louisville can be — get down 16, 17 points and you're thinking 'wow, this is going to be a blowout at the other end,' and before you know it they're down two, three points," Alexander said. "The speed of their guards has been really impressive to me. I've watched a couple games today and (Russ) Smith, Siva really get really quick with the basketball. They're going to get after you with their pressure, and they do a lot of offensive action from the elbow to the post area, hit and dive to the opposite post."
Siva, who averages 10 points, is U of L's career steals leader and is second in assists.
Smith contributes 18.1 points and 3.6 rebounds a game, and has had three or more steals in 14 games.
U of L complements Siva and Smith with 6-5 Wayne Blackshear (8.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg), 6-6 Chane Behanan (9.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and 6-11 Gorgui Dieng (10.0 ppg, 9.9 rpg).
A&T prides itself on defense.
"They pressure very well," Pitino said of the Aggies. "They trap. They front the post, make it difficult to run your offense. They've very, very well coached at the defensive end."
But Louisville's calling card is defense, too, with a press that helps force an average of 18.7 turnovers. The Cards have had double-digit steals in 26 games.
"As long as we run our press offense, we should be able to handle the pressure," A&T's Powell said.
"As long as we stay patient, don't let them rattle us," Witter added, "run our offense, run it confidently, play with confidence, I believe we'll be fine."
Seed: No. 1 in Midwest Regional
Coach: Rick Pitino, 12th year with Louisville. Previously took Boston University (1983), Providence (1987) and Kentucky (1994-97) to NCAA, winning a national championship in 1996.
Record against NCAA field: 12-5
How they got here: Automatic bid after repeating as champion of the Big East Tournament. Also shared the regular-season crown.
NCAA history: This is U of L's 39th NCAA Tournament. It has an all-time tournament record of 64-40, with two national championships, nine Final Four appearances and 18 trips to the Sweet Sixteen.
Familiar spot: This marks Rick Pitino's sixth tournament with a No. 1 seed, his second with Louisville (2009, '13). The other four times came with Kentucky (1993, '95, '96, '97).
What Louisville has to do to advance: Don't come in overconfident, and take care of business from the get-go. That all starts with defense.
NORTH CAROLINA A&T
Seed: No. 16 in Midwest Regional
Coach: Cy Alexander, first year with the Aggies. Previously took South Carolina State (1989, '96, '98, 2000, '03) to NCAA and coached Tennessee State.
Record against NCAA field: 1-2
How they got here: Automatic bid after winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament.
NCAA history: This is A&T's 10th NCAA tourney. It had not won any games in the tournament until Tuesday. It came close in 1984, falling 70-69 to Morehead State.
Over the hump: Tuesday's 73-72 win over Liberty moved A&T off an 0-9 NCAA record, and Coach Cy Alexander off an 0-5 mark.
What A&T has to do to advance: Poise against the press. The Aggies can't afford to give Louisville easy points via turnovers.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @markmaloneyhl. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com