The Louisville Cardinals are back in the Big East Tournament championship after knocking off the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 64-50 in the semifinals on Friday night.
Louisville reached the championship game last season, losing to Connecticut, but also beat Notre Dame in the semifinals to get there.
Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino said of the win, “Real proud of our guys. We’ve wanted to get to this championship game again. 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 for the players and all our fans.”
This is the third time Louisville has reached the championship game in the past four years.
They will take on the Cincinnati Bearcats, who upset the top team in this tournament, the Syracuse Orange, 71-68, in the first semifinal on Friday night.
Notre Dame got off to a good start in this game, holding a 15-9 lead in the early minutes.
Louisville then went on a 10-0 run that gave them control of the game. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng each had four points in the stretch.
The Cardinals kept the momentum going and finished the half on a 26-4 run to take a 35-19 lead into the half. Notre Dame did not make a field goal over the final 12:42 of the first half.
In the second half, Louisville led by as many as 24, taking a 53-24 lead on a three-pointer by Kyle Kuric eight minutes into the second half.
From there on, Louisville was in cruise control, and the closest Notre Dame got was when they made it 64-50 on a jumper by Tom Knight with 38 seconds left, and that wound up being the final score.
Gorgui Dieng led Louisville with a perfect night from the field, shooting 8-for-8 from the field and scoring 16 points. Peyton Siva had a great game again, scoring 13 points on 6-for-10 shooting. Kyle Kuric dominated the middle, notching 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting.
Pitino said of his team’s battles with Notre Dame, “Our guys did a fabulous job because when we played them last time we played two overtimes. I think 7 of 11 games have been in overtime, you think about that, how scary that is. The amazing thing is the last time we played them, including two overtimes, we got out five times on the break. We were banged up obviously with a lot of injuries and we were willing to play that style. Tonight we weren’t. Tonight we got ahead 11 of 13 times on the break for 19 points, and we shot a very high percentage.”
Notre Dame’s problems began at the three-point line, where they shot 2-for-17. Three-point shooting has been feast or famine for the Fighting Irish, as seen on February 25th, when they made just four three-pointers vs. St. John’s. In Thursday’s win vs. South Florida, they were more selective and shot 8-for-16 from behind the arc. Notre Dame was led by Eric Atkins with 12 points, and Jack Cooley had 11.
The championship game is Saturday night at Madison Square Garden at 9:00 pm.