N.C. State’s win at Louisville in February was one of its most important this season. Another one in March would mean even more.
N.C. State (22-13) will have a rematch with Louisville (26-8) in the East Region semifinals Friday at 7:37 p.m. (TBS) in Syracuse, N.Y..
The Wolfpack knocked off then-No. 9 Louisville 74-65 on Feb. 14. N.C. State went into that game with losses in six of its previous eight games and was in danger of missing the NCAA tournament.
With a breakout game from sophomore point guard Cat Barber, N.C. State picked up its first road win against a top 10 team since 2002. It also started a 5-1 stretch to close the regular season for the Wolfpack, which earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament.
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The Cardinals, the No. 4 seed, got to Syracuse with a 57-55 win against No. 13 seed UC Irvine on Friday in Seattle, and by dominating No. 5 seed Northern Iowa 66-53 Sunday.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino called Sunday’s win “our best game of the season.”
Back on Feb. 14, Barber had 21 points, four assists and two steals and was nearly flawless against Louisville’s press. After struggling so much before conference play with pressure defenses (notably losses to Purdue, West Virginia and Cincinnati), Barber finished with two turnovers in 35 minutes and left Pitino gushing.
“I thought he dominated us,” Pitino said.
That game also gave us the quote of the year from Barber, who got a pep talk from N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried before the Wolfpack’s 81-80 overtime win at Georgia Tech on Jan. 31.
“Coach keeps telling me, ‘Be you, be Cat, do what Cat do best,’ ” Barber said.
Barber has barely slowed since. He has averaged 15 points in the two NCAA wins and has averaged 15.8 points per game since the pregame Georgia Tech pep talk (compared to 10 during his first 21 games).
N.C. State also got strong efforts from forwards BeeJay Anya (8 points, 10 rebounds) and Abdul-Malik Abu (7 points, 8 rebounds) at Louisville.
Post production has been elusive this season for N.C. State, but the Wolfpack’s big men have stepped up during the postseason.
Abu and sophomore Lennard Freeman each had a double-double during the upset of No. 1 Villanova in the round of 32.
Anya scored the last four points, including the game-winner, of the 66-65 win against Louisiana State in the round of 64, and sophomore Kyle Washington was responsible for jump-starting the comeback from 16 points down.
Louisville will have a different look Friday than what N.C. State remembers. Guard Chris Jones, who led the Cardinals with 20 points in the first meeting, was kicked off the team Feb. 22 and faces rape charges in Kentucky.
The Cardinals have gone 5-2 without Jones, losing to Notre Dame at home and to North Carolina in the ACC tournament, a pair of teams in the Sweet 16.
Freshman guard Quentin Snider replaced Jones in the starting lineup and has averaged 13 points and 4.5 rebounds during the Cardinals’ two NCAA tournament wins.
Point guard Terry Rozier dominated Northern Iowa on Sunday with 25 points and seven assists. Rozier only had seven points in the first game against N.C. State and was just 3 of 11 from the floor.