This week is all about focus.

For Louisiana's Ragin' Cajun first-year coach Robert Lee and his 20-10 Sun Belt Conference champions, Friday's NCAA Tournament opener against No. 4 seed Louisville could dissolve into an attempt to prove they belong.

If it does, an already demanding task becomes next to impossible.

But if the Cajuns display the same poise and attention to game plan detail they did in sweeping the Sun Belt Tournament, they've got a chance to shock the Cardinals.

Lee is matched against Louisville's Rick Pitino, who is 445-158 in 19 years of college coaching, 93-34 in four years at Louisville, owner of the Cardinals' best season record (29-4) in 22 years and the engineer of a 27-9 all-time mark in NCAA Tournament play.

"I know he's a coaching legend," Lee said, "but that doesn't matter. It's the players he has. I'm not focused on who's coaching them."

Lee has his own remarkable tale to tell after being the second choice to succeed Jessie Evans as the Cajun head coach and being called on last July only after Glynn Cyprien was fired two months into the job. The last time Lee was a head coach, he was leading Opelousas High to the Top 28.

"I always believed that one day I would do something great as a basketball coach," said Lee, who admitted last summer was hard on him.

"Sometimes, you sit there at night and you want to say, 'I told you.' You feel some sort of vindication," Lee said. "To see where we are today is unbelievable. I think the work of the Lord had a hand on me.

"It was hard when you know you're ready for this."

Just as Lee is concentrating on the task at hand, he expects his veteran team to zero in on its business instead of on the lofty accomplishments of the Cardinals. With several players back from last year's Sun Belt champions who lost 61-52 to N.C. State in the NCAA Tournament, that task is made simpler.

"They won't be in awe of everything they see when we get there," Lee said. "The bright lights won't get to them.

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Bruce Brown
bbrown@theadvertiser.com