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The freshman from Cincinnati scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half, including nine over the last 8:02 and Louisville’s last two field goals — both after Siva had fouled out with nine points and eight assists.
Beal, meanwhile, matched Erik Murphy with a team-high 14 points and controlled this game for the first 37 minutes.
But over the last 3, he tried twice to take the ball to the hoop, only to get denied by 6-foot-10 center Gorgui Dieng. Beal missed the desperation 3 in the waning seconds and also got called for traveling after stealing a wild pass from Smith while Louisville was nursing a one-point lead with 18 seconds left.
The Gators came into the tournament losing four of five but won their first two games in the NCAAs by an average of 30. They looked as though they’d be playing in the Superdome next weekend, but then they fell apart.
"It was a tough journey for us. I think we stuck with it and we played together as a team," Beal said. "We got this far. I’m real proud of our guys. It’s just unfortunate we ended up losing today."
In the first half, Donovan looked like the better coach, though anyone would look good when his team is shooting that way. The Gators went 8 for 11 from 3, 6 for 10 from inside the arc and constantly harassed Louisville en route to a 41-33 lead.
But Pitino didn’t become the first coach to take three programs to the Final Four for nothing. He scrapped the zone defense, had his players get up in the face of the Gators and it worked — though the Cardinals paid the price in foul trouble.
Behanan and Kyle Kuric each finished the game with four fouls. When Siva got his fourth and Pitino got his ‘T,’ the coach tried to settle things down, stepping up to Siva and saying, "It was a foul. Stop saying it wasn’t."
Whether he believed it or not, who knows?
As for whether he thought a comeback was possible, especially playing the final 4 minutes without Siva on the floor? Well, Pitino did say in the lead-up to this game that the 1987 trip to the Final Four made him believe anything’s possible.
This is his first trip back since 2005, when Louisville also played a clunker of a first half against West Virginia — but rallied for an improbable win.
This one had a different feel at the end, because this one was between family.
The coaches shared a quick hug at center court after the final buzzer.
"I said, ‘Billy, I feel bad. I feel terrible, man,’" Pitino said. "He said, ‘Are you kidding me, Coach? I am so happy for you.’ That just doesn’t happen in this world."
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