March 10th, 2012

Louisville Runs Over, Through Notre Dame

Staff Report

Louisville Runs Over, Through Notre Dame
photo from idahostatesman.com / by Frank Franklin II / AP

Siva, Cards too quick, too talented for Irish

from und.com by Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP)-- Peyton Siva played another near-flawless floor game, Gorgui Dieng scored 16 points and Louisville dominated No. 23 Notre Dame 64-50 on Friday night to reach the Big East tournament championship game for the third time in four years.

The cat-quick Cardinals held the Fighting Irish without a field goal for the final 12 1/2 minutes in the first half and advanced to play Cincinnati on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. The fourth-seeded Bearcats, a first-time finalist, upset No. 2 Syracuse 71-68 in the first semifinal, handing the top-seeded Orange their second loss of the season.

Seventh-seeded Louisville (25-9), looking for its second tournament title since joining the league for the 2005-06 season, denied Notre Dame again in its quest to make the championship game for the first time. The third-seeded Fighting Irish (22-11) fell to 0-5 in the semifinal round--all under coach Mike Brey.

The matchup between Louisville and Cincinnati, both unranked, will be the first Big East championship game without at least one original league member.

The blowout was a bit of a surprise if only because the Irish and Cardinals have played such close contests in recent years.

The previous four games between the teams--and five of the past six--went to overtime. The schools split those four meetings, with two going to double OT, including Notre Dame's 67-65 victory at Louisville on Jan. 7.

But this time, Siva and his running mates throttled the Irish in the first half and never let up. The junior point guard flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 13 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

Perhaps the singular star of the tournament so far, he had 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals in a comfortable quarterfinal win over No. 9 Marquette. That followed 14 points and six steals in a second-round victory over Seton Hall.

With Siva running the show in Louisville's new lightweight, neon-orange uniforms, coach Rick Pitino improved to 41-13 in conference tournaments. He goes for his 10th title Saturday night.

The Cardinals came in ranked fifth nationally in field goal percentage defense (38 percent) and clearly showed why. Notre Dame shot 2 for 17 (12 percent) from 3-point range and 36 percent overall.

Kyle Kuric added 12 points for the Cardinals, who shot 56 percent from the field.

Notre Dame is the only team to reach the semifinals of this tournament each of the last three years. But it has never advanced any further since joining the Big East for the 1995-96 season, also getting eliminated in the semifinals in 2002 and 2007.

The Irish were knocked out by Louisville last season as well, losing 83-77 in overtime after taking a 16-point lead in the first half.

Notre Dame went the first 8:17 without a turnover and built a six-point lead on 7-of-14 shooting. But after Pitino put pesky reserve Russ Smith in the game alongside Siva, they forced two giveaways in a row in the backcourt that led to easy baskets.

Brey called a quick timeout, but his team never regained its shooting touch. Hounded by the much-quicker Cardinals, Notre Dame missed its final 14 shots from the field--jumpers, pull-ups, contested layups--as Louisville closed the half on a 26-4 run to go into the break with a commanding 35-19 cushion.

After halftime, it was more of the same. Jack Cooley hit on Notre Dame's first attempt to end the drought, but Kuric drained a pair of 3s in the span of a minute to make it 53-29 with 11:21 to go.

Louisville cruised from there to its eighth victory in its past 10 Big East tournament games. The Cardinals won the 2009 title and lost to Connecticut 69-66 in last year's championship game. They have won 11 of their last 16 games overall at Madison Square Garden.

The 6-foot-10 Dieng had an easy time getting low post position against Cooley and Notre Dame's undersized front line. Dieng, who drew Pitino's ire for a technical foul Thursday night that sent him to the bench for a long stretch, tossed in an array of baby hooks and layups.

Cooley, selected Most Improved Player in the Big East this season, had 11 points and 11 rebounds. Eric Atkins was the only other Irish player in double figures with 12 points.

Louisville and Notre Dame offered a stark contrast in styles, and they played tug of war early over the pace of the game. The Cardinals like to pressure the ball and convert turnovers into easy baskets. Notre Dame prefers to slow it down, protect the ball and play a half-court game. Both are normally very good at what they do, but it was the Cardinals who imposed their will Friday night.

Louisville came in ranked seventh in the nation in steals after forcing 26 turnovers, one shy of the Big East tournament record, in an 84-71 quarterfinal victory over second-seeded Marquette.

The Fighting Irish, steadied by a pair of dependable ball handlers in Atkins and Jerian Grant, were giving the ball away only 10 times per game, tops in the conference and third best in the country.

They finished with 12 turnovers in this one and were outscored 18-5 on second-chance points.


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