Louisville was in bad shape at halftime. The Cardinals were in foul trouble most of the second half. After dominating in overtime, they’re in the Big East championship game for the second time.
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Preston Knowles, despite playing the final 10 minutes of regulation and overtime with four fouls, scored 20 points to rally No. 14 Louisville to an 83-77 victory over No. 4 Notre Dame on Friday night.
The third-seeded Cardinals (25-8), who trailed by 14 points at halftime, will face ninth-seeded and 21st-ranked Connecticut, which advanced with a 76-71 overtime win over Syracuse.
It’s the first time both Big East semifinals went to overtime, and this was the third extra-session game of the tournament, matching the record.
The overtime was certainly nothing new to these teams as six of their last 10 games have gone to the extra five minutes, including this season’s meeting, an 87-79 Notre Dame win on Feb. 9.
”In the second half, I said, ‘You guys got one shot at winning this game. You have to take their legs from under them, and it’ll pay off at the end,”’ Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. ”’You have to deny them and you have to press them and in the end, if we make our comeback, they won’t have any legs.”
They didn’t, especially conference Player of Year Ben Hansbrough.
He struggled through one of his worst games of the season for the Irish (26-6), who’d won 12 of 13 coming in. The senior guard finished 3 of 16 from the field for 13 points and had six turnovers.
”I just did not have a very good night tonight. I just never got open,” he said. ”Even though they were in zone a lot, it never seemed like I could get open.
”I think it was just one of those nights. I’ve made those shots I took before. They just didn’t fall tonight.”
Peyton Siva, who played 6 1/2 minutes with four fouls before fouling out with 3:53 to go in overtime, had 15 points and seven assists for the Cardinals, who’ll be seeking their second title, having won it in 2009.
”Coach Pitino told us to stay aggressive, play smart and play the way we play,” Siva said. ”He had faith in us, and when I fouled out I had to have faith in my teammates and our bench.”
Connecticut will be looking for its seventh title, which would tie Georgetown for the most ever. The last time the Huskies won the tournament was in 2004.
The Cardinals swept the regular-season series from the Huskies, one of the games going to double-overtime.
”We’ve played them twice, we know them very well, we know the Connecticut team very well,” Pitino said. ”I think the mistake we’ve made is trying to stop one key guy and somebody else beats you.”
That key guy would be Kemba Walker, who had 33 points and 12 rebounds in the win over fourth-seeded and 11th-ranked Syracuse.
”They have a great player in Kemba Walker and a great freshman class,” Siva said. ”We’re going to have to play aggressively again and, most important, keep them off the glass and keep them to one shot.”
The Cardinals finished with a 49-35 rebound advantage over Notre Dame, including 23-10 on the offensive end.
”Second shots hurt us, tried some man, tried some zone, and we probably couldn’t get into a very good offensive rhythm,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. ”Their defense was very good. Having said that, we got some very good looks down the end and couldn’t make them.”
Notre Dame ended the first half on a 13-5 run to take a 46-32 lead. The largest halftime deficit overcome for a tournament game win was 15 points by Syracuse in a 58-57 semifinal win over Georgetown.
Louisville had its 14-point deficit wiped out by taking advantage of a terrible second half by the Irish. Notre Dame shot 56.7 percent from the field (17 of 30) in the first, but the Irish managed to go just 6 of 22 in the second 20 minutes (27.3 percent) and then 2 of 6 in the extra five minutes. They finished 25 of 58 overall (43.1 percent), including 8 of 24 from three-point range.
Knowles tied the game at 66-66 with 2:47 left in overtime. His tip-in of his own jumper gave Louisville a 70-68 lead with 1:52 to go and then his jumper with 1:02 left gave the Cardinals a 72-70 lead.
Carleton Scott tied the game at 72-72 with 46 seconds left and both teams missed a chance at taking the lead late in regulation, Notre Dame’s a three-point attempt by Hansbrough with three seconds to go.
It was Knowles again who gave Louisville the lead in the overtime for the final time with two free throws with 3:57 to play. Notre Dame managed just two points the rest of the way, keeping the Irish from their first ever championship game appearance.
Terrence Jennings, Louisville’s center who played the final 9:30 of regulation and overtime with four fouls, had 16 points.
”Coach always tells us that you can learn a lot from a loss,” Jennings said. ”We learned a lot from the first half of this game.”
Scott Martin led Notre Dame with 21 points and eight rebounds, and Tim Abromaitis added 16 points.