HOUSTON — The way Auburn Coach Sonny Smith sees it, his basketball team is stuck between a rock and a hard place in trying to figure out how to play Louisville in the West Regional final at the Houston Summit today.
"Louisville likes to run, so here's a game that if you had any sense, you'd make it a half-court game," he said. "But we can't play our game if we don't run."
He makes it sound bleak for Auburn, a team with a 22-10 record. Auburn came into the West Regional seeded eighth. Louisville, with a record of 29-7, was seeded second.
But Louisville is not about to take for granted a team that has made it to today's game by beating the top-seeded team, St. John's, 81-65, in the second round.
Before the season began, Auburn was rated right around Louisville in the preseason polls, with Louisville seventh or eighth and Auburn about 10th.
After a couple of weeks of playing one of the country's toughest schedules, Louisville dropped down in the polls and has only recently worked its way back up to seventh.
Auburn dropped out of the polls altogether after the first couple of weeks, also after playing a very tough schedule. Auburn has not yet worked its way back.
Smith said: "When I saw where we were ranked in the preseason polls, I thought maybe y'all were watching too much football. I didn't think we were that good. But now I think maybe the polls were right in the first place."
Chuck Person, the 6-foot 8-inch forward who leads the Tigers in scoring and rebounding, had 25 points and 11 rebounds Thursday in the win over Nevada Las Vegas.
Louisville Coach Denny Crum said, though, that it would be a mistake to assume that Auburn was a one-man team. "Auburn didn't get here with just Chuck Person playing well," he said. "But he is a great player. For a guy his size, he's a great outside shooter. He can put it on the floor. He's a complete player."
Crum said that although he would assign one of his players to guard Person, it would have to be a team effort. "We do so much switching, whoever gets the assignment won't be on him more than about a third of the time. We have to do that to stay out of foul trouble."
One of the Cardinals sure to share in that assignment will be senior forward Billy Thompson, who also had a big game Thursday, when he had 24 points, 5 assists and 9 rebounds in Louisville's victory over North Carolina.
Thompson, who played with Person at the World Games in Japan, said: "What I know about him is that he can do it all. He shoots real quick. That's what makes him hard to guard. He'll take that dribble and get some momentum, and then he's really quick."