NCAA Tournament West Regional Final: Cardinals Rally, Overcome Foul Trouble To Make Final Four

Russ Smith and Chane Behanan combined for half of the Cardinals' points in come-from-behind win

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Gorgui Dieng Shows Off NBA Talent In NCAA Tournament

Louisville sophomore Gorgui Dieng is a lot more than he appears on the surface. Yes, he's 6-11 with a 7-6 wingspan and the mobility and timing to block shots and grab rebounds. He's also a living example of the globalization of the game and how talent and character from any corner of the Earth has the opportunity to rise up and achieve greatness.

Dieng, 22, arrived in the United States in late 2009 to play one year of high school ball at Huntington Prep Academy in West Virginia. His English, non-existent when he arrived, is now fully fluent which helps us get a glimpse into the charm, intelligence and passion of this amazing young man.


LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 28: Gorgui Dieng #10 of the Louisville Cardinals during the Big East conference game on December 28, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky.(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The son of a former school principal (now a legislator) from a small town two hours outside the capital of Senegal, Dieng grew up a soccer player until he was too tall for that game. But basketball was present in his life from age five and while still improving, he's far more advanced in his skills than other young players from Africa.

That was evident Thursday night when Dieng was the best player on the floor in Louisville's Sweet 16 win over Draymond Green and the Michigan State Spartans. Dieng had seven blocks, nine rebounds and three steals in that game.

The "book" on Dieng is that he's a good NBA prospect because of his defense but is still underdeveloped offensively.

He's currently slotted to go in the second round of the 2013 draft although he insists he will graduate from Louisville to honor the wishes of his father who puts education well ahead of athletics.

Dieng isn't worried right now about his offense.

"When I was in high school, I never played defense in my life," Dieng said. "All I was caring was how I was going to score. I could do everything to score. But when I get to college, coach (Rick Pitino) told me, 'Listen, you want to make it to the NBA?' I say, yes. He say, 'I'm going to teach you how to make it to the NBA.' He change my whole mentality to play defense. He say, 'I want you to focus on defense so much and not worry about offense.'"

Coach told me, 'You're going to learn how to play good solid defense first. And after you learn that, I'm going to take you to the offense and stuff. That's easy.' ...If he wanted me to have 40 points tomorrow, he going to run a lot of plays to me and I'm going to score a lot but we're going to get beat. I want to be patient, listen to him, because I know he's not going to put me in a situation that I'm going to fail. Anybody can score."

The numbers back up his confidence.

According to Synergy Sports Tech, Dieng is rated "Very Good" on the offensive end, converting about 51 percent of his post chances and 71 percent in transition. His numbers are better than Florida's Patric Young, who's ranked as the 10th overall pick in a 2013 mock draft.

"I think he's pretty strong," Dieng said about playing against Young in Saturday's Elite Eight contest. "But basketball, you need to be skilled first. He might be stronger than me, you never know, but you need to be skilled first to play basketball...I think I have to use my mind."

If Dieng continues to add muscle and is given more offensive opportunities over the rest of his college career, I would expect his draft stock to soar. Once teams get a chance to talk to him and recognize how deep the waters run with this kid, NBA front offices will love him.

Dieng and the Louisville Cardinals face the Florida Gators in the Elite Eight on Saturday at 1:30 p.m..

Additional Notes:

- Dieng was caught on camera recently laughing after being chewed out by his coach. This is nothing unusual according to the light-hearted center, "To be honest with you, any time I see coach get mad, that tickles me."

- Gorgui said reaching the NBA would accomplish 70 percent of his goals in life. Asked about the other 30 percent, he displayed an understanding of his responsibilities learned from his father.

"The other 30 percent is like to be a role model and I want to go back home kind of giving back for people that help me to get here, going to school, playing basketball. I want to go back home one day and do the same thing for the kids. I don't want to be selfish. People help me to get where I am. I want to go back and do the same thing for them."

- His team-first mentality seems to mirror his small town upbringing where helping others and working as part of the community are highly valued.

- Dieng's favorite soccer player is Lionel Messi. He says playing soccer helps with his balance and when he wants to demonstrate how coordinated he is, the big man will show off by juggling a soccer ball.

- Dieng is studying Sports Management at Louisville. He wants to be a coach some day.

For more on the game and for complete coverage of the West Regional, be sure to follow SB Nation Arizona's StoryStream, which comes with a preview of the game, a breakdown of individual players and much more.

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Bradley Beal Demonstrates NBA Star Potential During NCAA Tournament

Florida freshman Bradley Beal has been described as a cross between Ray Allen and Eric Gordon and he's not shy from embracing that comparison despite coming across as an extremely hard working and humble kid. The shooting guard with the long arms and big bounce has NBA scouts and fans drooling for him to join the league soon. His tremendous performance in the 2012 NCAA Tournament is only driving up his stock.

Beal is currently projected to go in the top 10 of the 2012 NBA Draft in June with a chance that he could be taken with the second overall pick. His post season play is certainly helping his cause.

Bradley is averaging 16.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg and is shooting 17-26 (.654) through three games on the big stage and he dropped 20 points (8-15), eight rebounds, and five assists in Florida's narrow loss to Kentucky in the SEC semifinal game.


Mar 16, 2012; Omaha, NE, USA; Florida Gators guard Bradley Beal (23) brings the ball up court against the Virginia Cavaliers during the first half in the second round of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Century Link Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

He said Friday that he still doesn't know if he will leave Florida as most people expect, "Right now I don't know. I'm still focusing on this season. The season's not over with. When that time comes I'm going to sit down with coach and my family and we're just going to talk about it."

NBA fans in lottery teams around the country are hoping Beal's decision leaves Gator fans saying goodbye. Beal is ready for the NBA in large part due to his maturity and excellent basketball IQ.

What stood out most watching Beal in person was how well he fit into the pro-style offense the Gators run.

Despite being the most talented player on his team, Beal is a willing passer and understands that he can impact the game in more ways than scoring. He led his team in rebounding this season with 6.7 per game and has increased that to 8.7 in the tournament.

Beal's combination of court vision, maturity and understanding the value of the team game reminds me of another NBA player familiar to fans in Phoenix, ASU's James Harden.

Like James at times, the challenge for Beal can be finding the balance between working with his teammates versus taking advantage of his abilities to dominate his defender.

Beal struck that balance perfectly in Florida's win over Marquette in the Sweet 16 game on Thursday.

When his teammates were hitting shots, he focused on setting picks, moving the ball and rebounding. When his team struggled scoring for a few minutes he put his head down and got to the rim with great success.

He shot 8-10 in that game and was by far the best player on the court precisely because he didn't need to dominate the ball to dominate the game.

How does Beal know when to be more aggressive?

"When coach looks at me and just tells me to be aggressive and sometimes I know when we go a long time without scoring I take it upon myself to get something going to the basket whether it's scoring for myself or getting somebody else a shot."

I asked Beal if his ability to find that balance will translate to the next level. His answer demonstrated a fine balance between humility, confidence and understanding of the game that to me is what sets him apart.

"If I make it there, yes, I believe it will. Just being able to have that IQ and just being able to recognize when the team needs to score and when the team needs to get something going, that will probably help me out a lot."

Yes it will.

Whether Beal finds himself as the best player on his team again or if he's partnered with other stars in a place like Cleveland (Kyrie Irving) or Washington (John Wall), he will be successful in the NBA.

As one person commented to me, Beal can play with anyone and in any style.

Beal and the Florida Gators take on Louisville Cardinals on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. local time with the winner advancing to the Final Four.

Additional thoughts:

- Kansas and Duke topped Beal's list but he choose Florida based on coach Billy Donovan's unwillingness to coddle him.

"You don't want to be coming in guaranteed anything because that means you're complacent and that means you didn't have to work hard...I didn't want (Coach Donovan) to guarantee me anything. I wanted to come in and try and earn it and I think I did that."

- Beal is listed at 6-3 but that's clearly out of date. "I'm way taller than 6-3," Beal said. "I think I grew an inch or two but I'm not sure how tall I am right now."

Beal, only 18, said he's still growing and hopes that he's 6-5 now, adding, "When I was younger I heard 6-6 or 6-7 (from doctors). Hopefully, I'm still growing. I don't have any facial hair so maybe I can keep going."

Even if he's done growing, size won't be an issue for Beal in the NBA. His long arms (wingspan reported at 6-8) and solid frame and obvious strength should allow him to defend his position just fine at 6-4 or 6-5 or whatever he ends up being when he joins his first NBA team.

Click here for a brand new, fresh printable bracket and to follow the SB Nation StoryStream that covers the entire tournament.

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NCAA Tournament 2012 Schedule: Elite 8 TV Times, Matchups And More

The 2012 NCAA Tournament has been great thus far and just eight teams remain in contention for a national championship. Saturday will feature two Elite 8 matchups, with the winners earning a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans. One of the games will be played in Phoenix, with the other about 3,000 miles east. Let's take a closer look at the games.

WEST REGION - Phoenix, AZ

Matchup: Louisville Cardinals (4) vs. Florida Gators (7)

Road To The Elite 8: Louisville knocked off Davidson in the second round, New Mexico in the third and dismantled Michigan State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. Florida dominated Virginia and Norfolk State in their first two games, and led the entire way against Marquette earlier this week.

Tipoff Time: 4:30 p.m. ET / 1:30 p.m. PT

TV Coverage: CBS will broadcast the game live across the entire nation, with pre-game coverage starting 90 minutes before the game.

EAST REGION - Boston, MA

Matchup: Syracuse Orange (1) vs. Ohio St. Buckeyes (2)

Road To The Elite 8: Syracuse avoided the early upset against UNC-Ashville in the opening round before defeating Kansas State to advance to the Sweet 16. They knocked off Wisconsin at the buzzer on Thursday. Ohio State has defeated Loyola, Gonzaga and Cincinnati to get to this point.

Tipoff Time: 7:05 p.m. ET / 4:05 p.m. PT

TV Coverage: CBS will broadcast the action. Should the Louisville-Florida matchup run long or into overtime, they will likely delay the start until the conclusion of the earlier game.

For more on the West Region and the showdown between Florida and Louisville, check out SB Nation Arizona's StoryStream, complete with a game preview, breakdown of individual players and more.

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