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Louisville streaks past Notre Dame to Big East No. 2 seed

The SportsXchange

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The University of Louisville went into Saturday's game with Notre Dame at the KFC Yum! Center knowing it couldn't earn the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Big East tournament because Georgetown had already won.

But the Cardinals had a lot to play for.

A victory would leave them tied with Georgetown for the Big East regular-season crown and give them the No. 2 seed, and it would fulfill coach Rick Pitino's challenge of winning their final seven regular-season games. And they owed Notre Dame, which handed them their last loss, 104-101 in five overtimes on Feb. 9, and prompted Pitino to issue his challenge.

Mission accomplished. In spades.

Leading from start to finish and closing the game with a 28-13 run, Louisville triumphed 73-57.

The Cards scored the first four points and never looked back. They shot 66.7 percent in the first half (16 of 24) and led 37-27 at the break, saw the Irish close within 45-40 early in the second half, then went on a 12-3 run to create some breathing room. From there it was just a matter of the final margin.

"It was an exciting victory," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "It was great to earn a share of the Big East title, and now we need to go into New York and see if we can win that (Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden) as well. We're going in on a high. We're healthy, and everybody is playing well.

"We did a good job of attacking their defense, and we played very good defense, especially in the first half."

Gorgui Dieng paced the winners with 20 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and three steals. Peyton Siva had 13 points and five assists, and Luke Hancock had 10 points and five rebounds.

Notre Dame made just 11 turnovers, but eight of them were steals, resulting in a 17-7 Louisville advantage in points off turnovers. The Cards ended up shooting 51 percent (26 of 51).

Notre Dame, which shot 39.3 percent (22 of 56), was led by Garrick Sherman (14 points) and Pat Connaughton (13 points and seven rebounds). The Irish's guards, Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, scored nine and eight points but made just 5 of 20 shots and had just four assists.

"We ran into a buzzsaw today," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "Their defense really gave us problems the whole afternoon. Their guards played with such intensity. They stopped our guards, who are pretty darn good, from getting inside. And Siva was amazing. He was impossible to keep out of the paint. He broke down our defense.

"But I told my team I'm proud of them. We were 3-3 in the league when Scott Matin went down (with a season-ending knee injury), and we finished sixth in the league at 11-7. What did the sixth-place team do in last year's tournament? Yeah, I know, it was Louisville, and they won it. That's what I'm thinking. Actually, I started thinking that with 12 minutes to go."

Pitino noted the continued good play of his bench, specifically Hancock, a 6-6 junior forward, and Kevin Ware, a 6-2 sophomore guard.

Hancock, a transfer playing his first season here and who elicits the crowd cheer "L-u-u-ke" every time he does something, hit 2 of 4 three-point shots.

Ware had eight points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal and made the game's most spectacular play, a high-flying dunk on a fast break off an alley-oop pass from Russ Smith that brought the house down.

"Kevin Ware is doing a lot of good things now," Pitino said. "And Luke keeps getting better and better."

Louisville, which earned a double-bye in the Big East tourney, will play the winner of the Villanova-St. John's game Thursday at 7 p.m. ET in the quarterfinals.

Notre Dame, which earned a single bye, will play the winner of the DePaul-Rutgers game Wednesday at 9 p.m. The winner of that game will play Marquette on Thursday, with the winner of that game will play Louisville (if the Cards win Thursday) on Friday.

NOTES: Six of the last eight games between these teams have gone to overtime (two to double overtime), and on Feb. 11 they played an epic five-overtime game won 104-101 by Notre Dame. The teams are 3-3 in those OT games, and the last three games in Louisville went to overtime, with Louisville holding a 2-1 advantage. ... Notre Dame's Cameron Biedscheid, a 6-7 freshman, was ineligible Saturday because he was ejected after a fight in Tuesday's game against St. John's. He had played in all 30 games this season and is averaging 6.8 ppg, sixth on the team. ... The teams have met 30 times in a series that dates to 1952, with UofL holding an 18-12 advantage. ... Saturday was Senior Day for UofL, with Siva, Dieng and Mike Marra honored. Marra missed his senior season with a career-ending knee injury, and Dieng figures to go pro after this season.
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