Arizona Wildcats coach Andy Lopez was so caught up Saturday’s 16-4 win over Louisville that he didn’t notice the Cardinals’ famous fan.
Muhammad Ali watched Saturday’s game from behind the Louisville dugout with his wife and one other friend. The former heavyweight champ arrived before first pitch and left in the eighth inning — long after the top-seeded UA had imposed its will over its third-seeded opponent.
“Really? Wow,” Lopez said postgame. “I wish I would have known that.”
Lopez grew up in San Pedro, Calif., a boxing fan — his uncle was a lightweight champion in Mexico, and one of his cousins was a United States Golden Gloves champion.
The Wildcats coach said he admired Ali for his ability to fight, not just punch. The 70-year-old boxing legend is a Louisville native and icon there; his son, Asaad, is a former walk-on baseball player with the Cardinals.
For years, Lopez has urged his team to treat ballgames like prize fights. Ever the coach, he said he doesn’t have favorite athletes; instead, Lopez said he prizes performances.
Nobody performed quite like Ali.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize, you’ve got to be to take a punch — even in baseball,” he said. “They score three (runs), you’ve got to be able to take a punch and come back.”
Nobody’s battled better than Arizona in recent days, though its games — were they fights — would have been stopped well before the ninth inning.
The Wildcats played through a sloppy first inning Saturday before discovering their bats and cruising to a 16-run, 23-hit output. The team put up 15 runs and 20 hits in Friday night’s opener against Missouri after falling behind 2-0 in the first inning.
Louisville will face Missouri today at 4 p.m., with the winner facing the Wildcats at 8. Arizona can secure its first NCAA Regional championship since 2008 by winning the nightcap; should the team falter, it would play a rematch Monday night with the winner of the final game advancing.
The game against either Louisville or Missouri will be broadcast on ESPNU, a UA spokesman confirmed. ESPN will still stream both the 4 p.m. game between Louisville and Missouri and the 8 p.m. game between the winner and Arizona on ESPN3.com and on their WatchESPN app for mobile devices.