Notre Dame-Louisville Preview

It’s about to get a lot tougher for Notre Dame and

Louisville.

Only one will get the chance to play for a championship, and the

Fighting Irish have never had that opportunity before.

A night after both teams cruised into the semifinals,

fourth-ranked Notre Dame and the No. 14 Cardinals meet in the Big

East tournament for the first time with a berth in the title game

at stake Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Fighting Irish (26-5) joined the Big East in 1996, but have

never reached the tournament’s championship game. They reached this

stage last year, but lost 53-51 to eventual champion West

Virginia.

This time, coach Mike Brey has Notre Dame rolling, winning 12 of

13 after dominating No. 25 Cincinnati in an 89-51 win Thursday in

the most lopsided quarterfinal in Big East history.

“When you have a performance like that, on this stage, that’s

something I’m really proud of,” said Brey, the conference coach of

the year. “Hopefully it’ll give us momentum to keep playing well in

New York.”

Louisville (24-8) has put together its own strong stretch with

five victories in six games. The Cardinals had little trouble

dispatching Marquette in an 81-56 rout Thursday, setting up a

potential return to the Big East tournament’s title game for the

first time since winning it two years ago.

Coach Rick Pitino had little doubt his team would get that

chance again.

“I told them before the game that not since 1996 did I walk into

a place and feel as confident as I did walking in here. In 1996, I

had a reason with eight pros,” he said, referring to his national

championship team at Kentucky. “That’s a great feeling knowing your

team is going to bring it. It will be two good passing teams. It

should be an interesting matchup.”

The last one certainly was, as the Irish went on to win 89-79 in

overtime at home Feb. 9. The teams needed the extra period to

determine the winner for the fourth time in seven meetings since

the Cardinals joined the Big East for the 2005-06 season.

Notre Dame is entering this matchup coming off a 56.1 percent

effort from the floor while hitting 9 of 19 from beyond the arc.

The Irish are shooting 47.5 percent form 3-point range during a

five-game winning streak.

Ben Hansbrough is a big part of that, ranking third in the

conference with 18.7 points per game. The senior guard is

connecting on 68.3 percent of his field goals – 19 of 31 3s – to

average 25.4 points and 5.4 assists during that five-game

stretch.

The Big East Player of the Year showed few signs of slowing down

Thursday, making 8 of 11 shots to finish with 23 points and six

assists.

Hansbrough had 25 points in the latest meeting with the

Cardinals, while forward Tim Abromaitis had 23 after scoring 29 in

a 91-89 double-overtime loss at Louisville on Feb. 17, 2010.

The Cardinals have played stifling defense the last five games,

holding opponents to 33.6 percent from the field and 20.2 from

beyond the arc. They smothered the Golden Eagles, who made 29.8

percent from the field and missed 12 of 15 from long range.

Louisville guard Mike Marra made six of his own 3s Thursday, and

scored 22 points to more than triple his season average of 6.8.

Preston Knowles is looking for an improved effort after he was

limited to 13 points on 5 of 17 shooting against Notre Dame last

month. The senior guard is averaging 8.0 points the last four

meetings.

The winner will face either No. 11 Syracuse or 21st-ranked

Connecticut for the tournament championship Saturday night.