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Louisville's Francisco Garcia a Natural Leader

By Brad Moore
Journal Staff Writer
    Francisco Garcia's notorious long range as a shooter reaches out and touches nets. That's one of the University of Louisville star's many talents as a player.
    His cell-phone range reaches out and touches teammates. Delivering inspiring messages is one of his many assets as a leader.
    "He always sends me a three-paragraph text-message before every game to get me fired up," Louisville senior guard Larry O'Bannon said of Garcia. "He's just a great teammate to have.
    "He gets you to play at a level you never thought you could."
    Garcia, a junior who will make himself eligible for the 2005 NBA Draft in June, will try to help motivate his team to play at an Elite Eight level today when the fourth-seeded Cardinals face off with the top-seeded Washington Huskies in the NCAA Tournament's round of 16 today in the Pit.
    "I'm trying to enjoy this ride," Garcia, who was born in the Dominican Republic, said of the end of his college career drawing near. "I want to have as much fun as I can with my teammates."
    The unselfish 6-foot, 7-inch shooting guard, who announced that he was turning pro early this season to try to help his mother's financial situation in the Bronx, N.Y., leads the Cardinals in scoring (15.9 points per game), assists (3.9 apg), steals (1.8 spg) and blocks (1.5 bpg).
    "He makes other players better," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "Very few can do that."
    Early in the season, some felt he was making teammates better at his own expense. Garcia led the team in assists nine of its first 11 games, but led it in scoring just twice in that span after leading the team in scoring as a sophomore (16.4 ppg).
    But Garcia's plan and his points have progressed along with the season. He's coming off a 21-point performance in Louisville's 76-54 blowout of Georgia Tech on Sunday and a 27-point outburst in the first-round, 68-62 win over Louisiana-Lafayette on March 18.
    "Now that I'm playing well, everybody on the team is playing great," Garcia said. "I create (shots) for (teammates), trying to get their confidence going."
    Louisville assistant coach Reggie Theus, a former NBA star and UNLV standout, said Garcia will be playing great in the NBA soon.
    "I think he'll blossom even more in the NBA, when he has more room to do more things," Theus said.
   
Washington Vs. Louisville, 5:10 P.M. Today, Regional Semifinal
   
Louisville Cardinals
   
LOCATION
    Louisville, Ky.
   
RECORD
    31-4, 14-2 Conference USA
   
TOURNAMENT HISTORY
    51-33 in 32 appearances, seven Final Fours, two national titles (1980, 1986). Lost in opening round in 2004.
   
COACH
    Rick Pitino, 95-34 in fourth year at Louisville, 447-158 in 19th year overall.
   
ROAD TO THE PIT
    The Cardinals won the Conference USA regular-season and league tournament titles, then beat Louisiana-Lafayette (68-62) and Georgia Tech (76-54) in the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
   
STARTERS
    3 Juan Palacios, 6-8, F, Fr., 9.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg
    32 Francisco Garcia, 6-7, F, Jr., 15.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.9 apg
    2 Ellis Myles, 6-7, F, Sr., 10.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.4 apg
    5 Taquan Dean, 6-3, G, Jr., 14.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.5 apg
    34 Larry O'Bannon, 6-4, G, Sr., 14.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.8 apg
   
KEY RESERVES:
    1 Lorrenzo Wade, 6-6, G, Fr., 4.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg
    11 Brandon Jenkins, 6-3, G, So., 5.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg
    52 Otis George, 6-8, F, Sr., 5.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg