Louisville's Taquan Dean guarded Brigham Young-Hawaii's Shawn Opunui closely on Nov. 20 in Laie.

Louisville has come
a long way since
visiting Laie

Division II Brigham Young-Hawaii
held a seven-point second-half lead
on the Cardinals

The Louisville Cardinals' march to St. Louis began with a scare in Laie.

NCAA Final Four

Saturday's games; all times Hawaii time

» Illinois (36-1) vs. Louisville (33-4), 1:07 p.m.

» North Carolina (31-4) vs. Michigan State (26-6), 3:47 p.m.

The folks who happened to drop by the Cannon Activities Center on Oahu's North Shore the afternoon of Nov. 20 saw an eventual Final Four participant tested by NCAA Division II member Brigham Young-Hawaii.

BYUH led the Cardinals by seven points in the second half and was within four points of the Cardinals with 2:13 left in the game. But the Seasiders would get no closer in an 89-79 loss.

It's a game that has grown in significance for the Seasiders as the Cardinals advanced through the NCAA Tournament.

"It was fun," BYUH coach Ken Wagner said. "I think it's always a challenge to play teams like that, and it's pretty neat to play them and then you get a chance to see them in the Final Four."

Wagner left last night for St. Louis, where he'll get another opportunity to watch Louisville in person as the Cardinals (33-4) face Illinois (36-1) in a national semifinal game on Saturday.

North Carolina (31-4), which won the EA Sports Maui Invitational in its visit to the islands in November, faces Michigan State (26-6) in the other Final Four matchup. The winners meet for the national championship on Monday.

The Cardinals and Tar Heels were among 11 teams that passed through Hawaii on their way to the NCAA Tournament. Five played on Maui (Louisville, North Carolina, Texas, Stanford and Iowa) and another five appeared on Hawaii's schedule (Saint Mary's, Southern Illinois, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Nevada and UTEP). UAB placed third in the Rainbow Classic.

While North Carolina set the tone for its season by winning the Maui Invitational, Louisville finished fifth in the tournament, beating another local school, Chaminade, in the consolation bracket.

BYUH saw an eventual Final Four team up close in 1998, when Michigan State played in the Pearl Harbor Classic. But the Seasiders didn't cross paths with the Spartans, who went on to win the national title the following year.

Louisville was certainly in early-season form in its opener against BYUH this season, and didn't leave Wagner thinking his team had just faced another Final Four team.

"I thought they were really good, but they also were pretty young," said Wagner, who will be pulling for the Cardinals this weekend. "I think their inside players have really come along, and when we played them their outside people were playing awfully well."

BYUH center Austin Smylie worked his way around the Cardinals' taller, if inexperienced, big men to post 27 points and 10 rebounds.

The Seasiders' shooters also had Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who began his career as an assistant at UH, regretting his decision to schedule the tune-up by hitting 10 3-pointers as a team.

Louisville forward Francisco Garcia, an honorable mention All-American who will likely enter the NBA Draft as a junior, had three fouls in the first 10 minutes and finished with 10 points and two rebounds before fouling out with 2:13 left.

BYUH maintained a slim lead much of the second half, but guard Taquan Dean hit three 3-pointers in the final 9 minutes to help the Cardinals overtake the Seasiders. Dean and Larry O'Bannon finished with 18 points each.

"He killed us right at the end," Wagner said. "They were down and he hit two or three big 3s that were deep with what I thought was pretty good defense.

"When it's 5 or 6 minutes to go and we had a lead you think, 'Well, we have a chance.' ... The longer you're in the game the more confident you are. But like a good team does, their big players hit big shots and finished us off."

Local basketball fans will have another chance to catch some of the nation's best in action next season.

Hawaii opens its season against Michigan State on Nov. 19 at the Stan Sheriff Center.

The Spartans then head to Maui, joining Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Gonzaga, Kansas, Maryland and host Chaminade in the Maui Invitational set for Nov. 21-23 at the Lahaina Civic Center.

And if any of those teams are looking for a game, the Seasiders would be happy to oblige.

"We would any time," Wagner said. "We think it's a good challenge and it's fun to play against someone like that. If we get the opportunity we always do."

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