After 8 lead changes, Cardinals take control with 3:43 left

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Rick Pitino warned his team.

Louisville's coach didn't expect an easy game against Louisiana-Lafayette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and the Ragin' Cajuns proved just as troublesome as Pitino suspected -- maybe even more.

"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 two minutes,'" Pitino said after his fourth-seeded Cardinals advanced in the Albuquerque Regional with a 68-62 victory Friday night.

"We're very proud of this victory. When you're a four seed, and you play these teams today, you're going to play a terrific basketball team. We knew we weren't getting a breather," he said.

Francisco Garcia went 7-for-7 from the foul line in the final 1:57, finishing with 27 points to help Louisville (30-4) reach the second round for the second time in three years under Pitino, who is 28-9 in the NCAA Tournament.

Louisville will face fifth-seeded Georgia Tech in the second round Sunday. The Yellow Jackets beat George Washington 80-68.

Pitino insisted all along that Louisiana-Lafayette was not a typical No. 13 seed, going as far as to say the Ragin' Cajuns were the most difficult first-round opponent he's faced in 10 tournament appearances with Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and now Louisville.

Turns out, he wasn't just paying lip service.

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 pull away.

No one was more clutch than Garcia, who was fouled by Dwayne Mitchell on a 3-point attempt with 1:57 to go and made all three free throws for a 63-57 lead. He made two more with a minute left and then calmly sank his last two to push the Cardinals' advantage back to five with 13.9 seconds remaining.

O'Bannon scored 13 points and Taquan Dean has 12 for Louisville (30-4), which erased memories of a first-round loss to Xavier a year ago.

Brian Hamilton led Louisiana-Lafayette (20-11) with 19 points before fouling out. Tiras Wade had 15 points and Chris Cameron added 11.

"It is a shame a team had to lose tonight," Louisiana-Lafayette coach Robert Lee said. "But our team played great, and that's all I can ask. ... We just didn't make the plays down the stretch."

Pitino and his players have spent much of the week deflecting questions about the team's seeding.

The Cardinals' victory over Memphis in the Conference USA tournament title game was their ninth straight and 18th in 19 games and many anticipated it would be enough for Louisville to earn a No. 1 or -- at worst -- a No. 2 seed.

Lee also felt Louisiana-Lafayette deserved better on Selection Sunday after playing a tough non-conference schedule that included road games at LSU, Charlotte, Kansas, North Carolina State and Vanderbilt.

Pitino biggest concern, though, was the Ragin' Cajuns versatility, athleticism and experience, including a lineup that included four starters who transferred to the Sun Belt champions from other Division I schools.

With Dean leading the way, Louisville built a 23-15 lead before Louisiana-Lafayette made it clear that it wasn't going to go away.

The Ragin' Cajuns made up ground in spurts, closing their deficit to 33-32 at the half to put themselves in position to chase the upset that also eluded them in the first round a year ago, when poor second-half shooting undermined a bid to knock off North Carolina State.

Cameron, a 6-foot-11 center with a feathery shooting touch, made a pair of 3-pointers during a 15-8 surge that put the Ragin' Cajuns ahead 49-45 with just under 10 minutes to go.

Brandon Jenkins dunked off a lob pass and Garcia followed with two quick baskets to put Louisville up again, but the Cardinals still couldn't take control.

"We had respect for them, but we were not intimidated at all," Cameron said. "Rick Pitino is a great coach and has proven himself over the years, but when it comes right down to it, that doesn't mean anything. You have to prove it on the court."

The Ragin' Cajuns earned Louisville's respect, too.

"They played every possession like it was their last," Garcia said. "They kept attacking us, they didn't want us to feel comfortable out there."

Still, he never felt the Cardinals were in danger of losing.

"Like I said before, we're used to games like this," the Louisville star said. "We're not comfortable if it's not a game like this."