No. 14 Louisiana strives to knock off No. 3 N.C. State

ORLANDO When Brian Hamilton transferred to Louisiana from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, he dreamed of playing in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament.

That dream becomes reality at 11:15 a.m. today when the Ragin' Cajuns meet North Carolina State in first-round NCAA regional action.

"You put your heart on the court every game, just to be here now," Hamilton said. "It's not over yet, though. We've got a lot more to do."

Hamilton epitomizes this year's Cajuns unselfish, relentless on defense and relatively free of ego.

The All-Sun Belt Conference performer averages 11.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, but also has 54 steals, 53 assists, 12 blocked shots and enough bruises to recall each time he went after a loose ball.

It will take that kind of performance today for the No. 14 seeds to knock off the No. 3 Wolfpack and reach a Sunday second-round matchup with the winner of today's Western Michigan-Vanderbilt battle.

"It's like any game," Hamilton said. "We want to get off to a good start in the first five minutes. We want to set our pace and get our transition game going."

"Our defense sets everything up," said Auburn transfer Dwayne Mitchell, owner of 45 steals, 13 blocked shots and 83 assists. "If we stop people from scoring, we believe we can score.

"We need to keep the same intensity we had for the Sun Belt Tournament, and try to make a name for the school and ourselves."

To be sure, the Cajuns aren't awed by their surroundings after playing NCAA participants Arizona, Xavier, Valparaiso and Dayton during the season.

"We don't look at the conference they're from," Laurie Bridges said of N.C. State, the runners-up in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "We look at it as team vs. team."

"Nah, we weren't scared when we saw N.C. State's name come up on the screen," said senior Brad Boyd, who swished numerous 3-pointers in Thursday's practice. "When we saw our name, we got real excited.

"We knew we were going to face a good team, no matter who we played."

The Cajuns' attitude didn't surprise Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek, the ACC Coach of the Year.

"Once you get in the tournament, everybody tries their heart out to advance," Sendek said. "Our players are aware that there are upsets. Our guys are really bright.

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Bruce Brown