By Gary Graves
The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville men’s coach Rick Pitino went to New Orleans to watch the Cardinals’ women’s team play Connecticut in Tuesday night’s NCAA championship game.
But his players did not go.
Pitino, fresh off his team’s 82-76 win in the title game over Michigan on Monday night, was sitting behind the Cardinals bench trying to spur on the women’s team.
He talked to the women’s team at their pregame meal and told them to just enjoy the moment and have fun in the game.
Under NCAA rules, neither the school nor Pitino could pay for the players to get to New Orleans to attend the game.
The NCAA says it granted a waiver to Louisville early Tuesday that would have allowed the school to pay for the trip, but the school says it had already made plans to go home.
The team plane landed about 2:25 p.m. EDT, and players immediately boarded a bus back to campus.
A few dozen spectators looked on from a fence at Louisville International Airport.
After Louisville’s win in Atlanta, players and Pitino hinted at going straight to New Orleans to support the surprising women’s team against the Huskies in the final.
The men and their coach have frequently attended women’s games this season and both programs have said they feed off each other’s success.
“They all wanted to go to the women’s game,” Pitino said after the game. “We asked the NCAA and they said it’s illegal, we were going to take the plane and go see them, which is a shame. I guess it’s an extra benefit. ...
“If we could ever win two championships, men’s and women’s, it would absolutely be awesome.”
For Louisville players, the benefit was returning home to a campus and city enjoying Cardinals mania.
If Tuesday was any indication, a disguise might be helpful if they want to go anywhere.
Several dozen fans and followers seeking autographs and photos greeted the Cardinals as they came back to Billy Minardi Hall.
The partying will peak during today’s official celebration at the KFC Yum! Center. It will include the Cardinals’ women’s basketball team.
For now, the men are basking in the afterglow of their first title since 1986.
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