Rockdale grads Ware, Thompson preparing for Sweet 16

It has already been a memorable NCAA Tournament for two former Rockdale basketball standouts. Now Kevin Ware of Louisville and Florida Gulf Coast’s Bernard Thompson, both sophomores, get to participate in the Sweet 16, which begins today.

Ware had one of his best games of the season in the top-seeded Cardinals’ 82-56 win over eighth-seeded Colorado State on Saturday in the third round of the Midwest Regional.

Against an overmatched Colorado State team, Ware, a 6-foot-2 guard, joined teammate Peyton Siva with a game-high five assists. The Conyers native added four points and two rebounds, helping the Cardinals extend their winning streak to 12 games.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino was impressed with his team’s effort, including Ware, who didn’t commit a turnover in 17 minutes off the bench.

“We can play much better, but I said this was the best we have played so far because at both ends of the floor,” Pitino told gocards.com. “I mean, we can, there’s definitely things, like Kevin Ware played great tonight, he really did, five assists, no turnovers. Ever since we moved him at the point, he has improved immensely even though he’ll play (shooting guard and point guard). But I’ve seen his growth tremendously as soon as we started playing him at the point, more confident with pick and rolls, more confident creating passes.”

Louisville, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, will play No. 12 seed Oregon at 7:15 p.m. Friday.

Thompson was the star in the No. 15 seed Eagles’ 81-71 win over seventh-seeded San Diego State in the third round of the South Region. The 6-foot-2 guard and Atlantic Sun Conference defensive player of the year scored a game-high 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field while adding five steals.

Thompson and point guard Brett Comer, who had a career-high 14 assists, are not only the most unheralded backcourt of the remaining NCAA Tournament teams, but also one of its best.

“When you have Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson in your backcourt you’re pretty good,” FGCU coach Andy Enfield told TBS Sports after the win over San Diego State.

Florida Gulf Coast, the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16, will try to pull another upset when its plays third-seeded Florida at 10:07 p.m. Friday.

The former Rockdale teammates, who played together in the 2011 state championship game at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, helped their teams to second-round victories. Thompson was fantastic in his NCAA Tournament debut as Florida Gulf Coast, playing in the tournament for the first time, upset second-seeded Georgetown 78-68 on Friday. Thompson scored 23 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field and was 10 of 16 from the free-throw line, helping the Eagles pull off its first of two shockers.

Ware came off the bench and played 18 minutes, contributing five points and two rebounds, in the Cardinals’ 79-48 win over No. 16 seed North Carolina A&T.