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March 10, 2012
NEW YORK - This one didn’t go into overtime. Not even close.
A 26-4 Louisville run after Notre Dame took a six-point lead into the second media timeout quickly evaporated as the Cardinals (25-9) held the Irish without a field goal over the final 12:42 of the first half en route to a 64-50 victory to advance to the finals of the Big East tournament for the second year in a row.
It wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated.
“We turned it over there a couple of times, and I don’t think we ever recovered,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey, whose squad (22-11) failed to advance to the championship after reaching the semifinals of the Big East tournament for the third straight year.
“Their full-court pressure really got to us. They defended the heck out of us. We had some open looks that you’ve got to knock down to stop the bleeding when they were in the midst of their run. I give a lot of credit to Louisville, just kind of making us uncomfortable with their defense.”
The No. 7-seeded Cardinals advance to Saturday night’s championship game against No. 4 seed Cincinnati, which will be making its first appearance in the Big East tournament title tilt after knocking off No. 1 seed Syracuse, 71-68.
“We wanted to get to this championship game again,” said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, whose squad shoots for its second Big East Tournament title under his direction after losing to UConn in last year’s championship game.
“We lost it last year in a very close battle, and we wanted to play for it again.”
While the Irish were shooting just 35.8 percent from the field (19-of-53), including an abysmal 2-of-17 from three-point range, the Cardinals were connecting on 56.0 percent (28-of-50) from the field, including 65.7 percent of its two-point attempts.
Doing most of the damage in the paint was 6-foot-10, 245-pound Senegal native Gorgui Dieng, who made all eight of his field goal attempts. Twenty of Louisville’s 28 field goals were assisted, including nine by point guard Peyton Siva, who also had 13 points and eight rebounds.
“They’re hard to keep out of the lane,” Brey said. “Siva is so good getting in there.”
Irish big man Jack Cooley also was good getting into the lane, scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, including nine on the offensive end. Cooley established himself from the outset with six of his seven first-half rebounds on the offensive end.
But he managed just five baskets on the night, and when the Irish were unable to score over the final 12:42 of the first half, it was a hole from which they could not recover. The closest the Irish could come was 12 points at the 16:04 mark of the second half. The Cardinals eventually would extend their lead to 24 points, which made the final 14-point spread deceptive.
“We were throwing it in to (Cooley) and he was doing stuff,” Brey said. “And then when they started coming down on him, we had some looks. You’ve got to make a couple more of those to have a chance.”
For Cooley, it was a strong bounce-back performance after scoring nine points and grabbing one rebound in Thursday’s victory over South Florida.
“My team really helped me and picked me up (Thursday) night,” Cooley said. “I let everyone down last night. I had a decent game today, and I wanted to make sure I came back and got a little bit more in the rhythm of things and tried to play more for my team. I wanted to play my hardest.”
Brey was encouraged to be heading into the NCAA tournament with Cooley back in his double-double mode.
“We need his presence, and him playing well - even though it was a loss - makes me feel good about moving to a game on Thursday or Friday.
A 7-0 run gave the Irish a 15-9 lead early on. But that’s when the Cardinals put the press on, extended their half-court defense, and went on a 10-0 run to take a 19-15 lead. Eric Atkins’ two free throws finally ended the 5:09 drought. But the momentum was short-lived as Dieng scored the next three Louisville baskets for a 25-17 lead that would double by halftime.
“He’s becoming a terrific player, and we’re very fortunate to have him in our program because he’s one of the most popular guys on the campus and because he’s such a terrific person,” said Pitino of Dieng.
“He’s really improving. I’m really proud of him. He plays real hard and the sky’s the limit as to how good he can become down the road when he gets stronger.”
Atkins led the Irish in scoring with 12 points, but his backcourt mate, Jerian Grant, struggled shooting the basketball (2-of-9 from the field, 1-of-7 from three-point range) and had five of Notre Dame’s 12 turnovers.
Scott Martin also had a tough night, missing 4-of-5 from three-point range and finishing with just nine points and three rebounds.
Now, it’s back to South Bend and awaiting Sunday’s announcement as to seed, location and opponent for the NCAA tournament.
“It’s kind of a fresh start,” Brey said. “I talked to them about given that we leave here with a bad taste in our mouth, can we be a little hungrier and edgier in the NCAA tournament.
“I’m really proud of what they’ve done up to this point. We’ve had a heckuva run and I love the fact that they’re stinging. I hope that helps us in our preparation moving into the next (tournament).”
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