NEW YORK - They are interchangeable parts on a Louisville machine built for a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith can score, distribute and play lock-down defense with equal tenacity, and Friday night they were once again a force in No. 4 Louisville's 69-57 victory over No. 24 Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament at sold-out Madison Square Garden. Louisville (28-5), the defending tournament champion, has won nine straight and faces Syracuse in the final on Saturday. The Cardinals also claimed the title in 2009. Smith led the Cardinals with 20 points, six assists and a steal. Siva added 12 points, six assists and seven steals. Whenever Louisville, seeded second, needed a big basket to pull away from the Irish, Siva or Smith was there to deliver. Notre Dame (25-9), the sixth seed, pulled to within 41-37 with 11:10 to go on a Zach Auguste layup, but that's when Siva and Smith turned it up a notch. The duo combined for all of Louisville's points in a 9-4 run to pull away to a 50-41 lead with 6:00 to play. Notre Dame, which had won an epic five-overtime game against the Cardinals on Feb. 9, got 14 points apiece from Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant. The Cardinals forced 16 turnovers and recorded 11 steals. Coach Rick Pitino's team forces 18.8 turnovers per game and has collected double-digit steals in 25 of its 33 games. Louisville held a 32-25 lead at the half on the strength of balanced scoring. Siva led eight players with eight points as Pitino went to his bench early. Notre Dame's Garrick Sherman continued his role as a scorer for the second straight game, coming off the bench. He made all four of his shots for eight points. Siva, who had three steals in the first-round win over Villanova, had four swipes in the first half Friday. NOTES: -- Notre Dame's 25 wins are tied for the second most of the 13-season Mike Brey era. ... This is the third straight season Notre Dame and Louisville met in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. The Cardinals hold a 2-1 advantage. ... Five of the last seven meetings between Notre Dame and Louisville have gone into overtime. ... Louisville has a 7-5 edge over the Irish since the Cardinals joined the Big East in 2005.
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- Peyton Siva