Louisville 64, No. 23 Notre Dame 50
NEW YORK (AP)
Notre Dame still has no idea what it's like.
Siva delivered 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 title game at Madison Square Garden for the third time in four years.
The cat-quick Cardinals held the Fighting Irish without a field goal for the final 12:42 in the first half and advanced to play Cincinnati on Saturday night. 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.
''We've wanted to get to this championship game again,'' Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. ''We lost it last year in a very close battle, and now we get the opportunity to play for it again, and it's a great opportunity.''
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 final without at least one original league member. The Cardinals lost at Cincinnati 60-56 on Feb. 23.
''I think Conference USA has come to the Big Apple,'' Pitino said.
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, Pitino improved to 41-13 in conference tournaments. He goes for his 10th title Saturday night.
''Coach P told us before we got in the Big East, just forget about the regular season, that we're starting a new season now,'' Siva said. ''Everybody really bought into that. Everybody really bought into defense on this team, and everybody was really feeding off that.''
The Cardinals came in ranked fifth nationally in field goal percentage defense (38 percent) and certainly showed why. Notre Dame shot 2 for 17 (12 percent) from 3-point range and 36 percent overall, becoming the sixth opponent in Louisville's last seven games to be held to 60 points or fewer.
Kyle Kuric added 12 points for the Cardinals, who shot 56 percent from the field - their best mark in a Big East tournament game.
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.
''We had another chance tonight to do something we haven't done in our program before,'' junior forward Jack Cooley said. ''It's a pretty big disappointment, but we've just got to move on to the next tournament. The next one next week is the biggest one in the whole season, so that's what we've got to focus on now.''
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 advantage 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.
''I put the two mosquitoes in the game with Russ and Peyton, and they just bother people,'' Pitino said. ''They just gnaw at people. They just really, really get under your skin, and that really gave us a big lift defensively.''
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.
''Their full-court pressure kind of got to us, and we never really did recover,'' Brey said. ''They defended the heck out of us. We had some open looks that you've got to knock down to kind of stop the bleeding when they were in the midst of their run, and we never got any of those. So give a lot of credit to Louisville, just kind of making us uncomfortable with their defense.''
After halftime, it was more of the same. 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. 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.