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`REAL’ CARDINALS: BALL STATE UPSETS FAVORED LOUISVILLE

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It didn't matter that they were facing the most successful NCAA tournament team of the past decade or that they were a measly No. 12 seed playing a No. 4 seed or that not many people outside of Muncie, Ind., knew much about them.

The unheralded Ball State Cardinals took charge from the opening tip and held on for a 62-60 upset victory over the more-famous Louisville Cardinals Saturday afternoon before 13,025 fans at the Huntsman Center.Soon after the final 3-point try by Louisville's Everick Sullivan missed at the buzzer, it was the Ball State cheering section chanting, "We're the real Cardinals" as the other Cardinals failed to get past the NCAA second round for the first time in eight tries since 1981.

On the court, Ball State players, coaches and cheerleaders were jumping around, celebrating like it was the national championship. It was the biggest victory in the history of the school, which reached the NCAA Final 16 and a matchup with UNLV Friday in Oakland.

BSU Coach Dick Hunsaker, who learned his trade as an assistant at Weber State for eight seasons, was running around like a kid on Christmas morning. First he leaped into the arms of his assistant coaches. Then he started pointing with both hands toward the Ball State crowd in Section B, wearing a huge grin on his face. The only thing that calmed him down was an awaiting interview on national television with Tim Brandt.

Later, in the interview room, he talked about how his team executed its game plan to perfection.

"We entered the game with a frame of mind to win and not being just happy to be here," said Hunsaker. "We weren't intimidated or in awe of the tremendous Louisville athletes. Their cardinal is just the same as our cardinal. It's the heart inside of the jersey, not the name of the institution on that jersey."

Ball State won thanks to a stifling defense that held Lousville to 37.9-percent shooting, their worst output of the season. Only in a loss to Memphis State had the Cardinals, 53-percent shooters on the year, been held under 40 percent.

"If we can't shoot any better than that, we can't beat anybody," said Lousville Coach Denny Crum. "You have to credit Ball State. They made the decision to sag in, and when you don't make those shots, it makes their defense look good."

The BSU strategy was to sag in on Lousville's 7-foot center Felton Spencer, the team's leading scorer. Whenever he got the ball inside, three or four BSU players suddenly surrounded him. Though Spencer still ended up as his team's leading scorer along with Jerome Harmon with 14 points each, he was only able to get eight shots off.

It was Lousville's perimeter shooting that hurt. Sullivan was 1 for 8. Keith Williams went 2 for 9 and LaBradford Smith made 4 of 12. From 3-point range, Louisville was 3 for 16. Only reserve Harmon, with a 7-for-11 shooting day, hit the hoop with any consistency. Harmon also had the lone dunk of the day by the proclaimed Doctors of the Dunk II.

"We had to force them to the perimeter game," said Hunsaker. "We tried to get them to take a little quicker shot than they wanted to. We were fortunate. If those shots go down, it's a different ball game."

At the other end, Ball State made the same number of shots, 22, on 10 fewer attempts, 48. Chandler Thompson and Billy Butts led the scoring with 15 apiece and Curtis Kidd added 11. BSU won the rebounding battle 38 to 27.

The first few minutes set the tone for the entire game. Ball State's Scott Nicholes stole the ball on Louisville's first possession and Louisville missed shots on its next two possessions. After that it was 4-0 Ball State, which never trailed.

The lead reached 23-9 midway through the half and got as high as 30-14 before Louisville cut the margin to 36-23 at halftime.

In the second half, Ball State increased the lead to 46-29 at the 13:54 mark when Louisville decided to make a game of it.

Over the next six minutes, Louisville scored 14 unanswered points, turning the momentum completely around. With Ball State seemingly on the ropes, Butts fired up a 3-pointer that hit the front of the rim, bounced up and hit the glass before settling in the net. "I got the shooter's bounce," said Butts.

"If I had to point to one key bucket, it was Billy Butts' three, where he got the friendly roll on the soft rim and nestled it home," said Hunsaker.

On Lousville's next possession, Thompson stole the ball from LaBradford Smith and went in for a thundering dunk over Smith, who fouled him. "I was thinking dunk all the way," said Thompson. "I knew he was going to try and block it, so I just tried to extend myself."

That basket awoke the crowd, which had been quietly favoring Ball State most of the way. But from there out, the local fans, who you'd have figured would have been more vocal because of the Utah connection with Hunsaker and ex-Ball State Coach Rick Majerus (who sat nervously in the back row of press row), finally turned up the volume for Ball State. It prompted Butts to say later, "The crowd was great. It might have been our sixth man."

Louisville hung in there and with 1:16 left, Spencer's two free throws made it 62-60. With 30 seconds to go, a Ball State turnover gave Louisville a chance to win or force overtime. The ball went into Spencer, but his turnaround bank shot with 10 seconds left was too hard and Thompson went high for the rebound and was fouled.

When Thompson missed at the other end, Lousville, looking for its best shot possible, went to Sullivan on the right angle. But his 3-pointer boinked off the rim just like all the others.

On this day, a win just wasn't in the Cards for mighty Louisville.