March 9, 2012
Louisville denied Notre Dame a place in its first BIG EAST championship game last season in a contest that predictably went overtime.
These teams meet once again with a spot in the title game on the line in what could be a long Friday night since the No. 23 Fighting Irish and Cardinals have seen their last four matchups go past regulation.
Louisville (24-9) won 83-77 in overtime over Notre Dame (22-10) last year in the semifinals after erasing a 14-point halftime deficit.
“I really believe this group, of all my teams, is most equipped to get to Saturday night,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, whose team is in the BIG EAST semifinals for the fifth time. “It’s something we’ve talked about in our program for a while. It’s the next step.
“I think our program has been extremely consistent and solid in the BIG EAST, but playing on Saturday would mean a lot, and I think this group has really digested it. Of course, we play the same guys who stopped us from getting there last year in Louisville.”
The Fighting Irish earned a measure of revenge against the Cardinals with a 67-65 road victory in double overtime Jan. 7. Jack Cooley and Scott Martin had double-doubles for Notre Dame, while Kyle Kuric and freshman Chane Behanan did the same for Louisville.
Notre Dame has taken all three of its overtime games this season, including a 57-53 win over the University of South Florida in Thursday’s quarterfinals. Eric Atkins scored all six of his points in the extra session.
“I tried to be confident all throughout the game,” Atkins said. “I really didn’t hit anything all game, though.”
The Cardinals, who won the BIG EAST tournament title in 2009, are seeking their third appearance in the championship game. They are brimming with confidence after forcing a season-high 26 turnovers in Thursday’s 84-71 upset of No. 9 Marquette.
“We’ve had a lot of great wins, but this was good for us to get back to playing the way we wanted with pressing and running and just pushing the pace,” coach Rick Pitino said.
The coach knows it won’t be easy to force miscues against a Fighting Irish team that ranks among the nation’s least mistake-prone, averaging 10.0 turnovers.
“If Notre Dame wants to slow it down, they will, because they have excellent ballhandlers, they’re excellent passers, and we have to learn to play both ways, and we have this season,” Pitino said.
Louisville junior guard Peyton Siva was a non-factor the first time these teams met with eight points – his total over his two contests prior to this tournament. He’s averaging 16.0 in his last two games.
“Going into this tournament we were hoping he would turn it around, and he is, and we had a long talk,” Pitino said. “I used the analogy of the New York Giants – nobody remembers the regular season anymore when they went into the playoffs; it just matters what you do in the postseason.”
The winner will face second-ranked Syracuse or Cincinnati in Saturday’s title game.