Louisville-Notre Dame Preview
Rick Pitino muttered one word to describe his mood in the wake of the well-documented controversy surrounding Louisville's program.
"Tired," the coach said with a weary voice at Friday's press conference.
Following a saga that resulted in a self-imposed one-year postseason ban, the No. 13 Cardinals open a tough stretch on the court when they visit Notre Dame on Saturday.
Louisville (19-5, 8-3) will not be eligible for either the ACC or NCAA tournaments after the school's investigation into allegations by an escort that former staffer Andre McGee paid her and other dancers to strip for and have sex with recruits and players.
The Cardinals have since split a pair of games and sat on Monday's 72-65 loss at Duke for three days before Pitino took a moment to reflect this week.
"This just takes a lot out of you, it really does," he said. "I made the statement one time, I said, 'I was born a New Yorker but I want to die a Kentuckian.' But I don't want this to kill me, either."
Pitino also said Friday there won't be a return for Mangok Mathiang, who broke his left food Dec. 19 against Western Kentucky. Mathiang, who was averaging 7.1 points and 5.7 rebounds, was expected to miss six to eight weeks, but Pitino said he will not bring back the 6-foot-10 junior forward with the postseason out of the picture.
Though no potential prizes await the Cardinals, the regular season ACC title is still up for grabs. They are right in the thick of things, trailing leader North Carolina by one game amid a mix of teams that includes the Fighting Irish (17-7, 8-4).
Following this visit to Notre Dame, Louisville hosts surging Syracuse and the Blue Devils before playing at Pittsburgh and No. 12 Miami. After a home game against Georgia Tech, the Cardinals, who are 3-4 in true road games, close the conference slate at seventh-ranked Virginia.
Louisville is one of the top defensive teams in the nation, holding opponents to 60.3 points per game, but Duke became one of six to hang 70 on the Cardinals by shooting 44.7 percent and making 9 of 21 from 3-point range.
Notre Dame is tied with the Blue Devils for second by averaging 78.8 points in ACC play, behind only the Tar Heels' 79.9. The Irish have come around offensively, following an 80-76 win over then-No. 2 UNC on Feb. 6 with Monday's 89-83 victory at Clemson. Notre Dame shot 50.9 percent and made 10 of 22 from beyond the arc against the Tigers.
"These last 48 hours were very important for us," coach Mike Brey said. "We've made great strides."
Senior center Zach Auguste has taken his own step forward, averaging 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds over the last four games while shooting 56.5 percent.
Auguste, though, has only scored a combined 14 points in four previous meetings against Louisville, including two in 18 minutes of a 71-59 road win March 4.
Notre Dame leading scorer Demetrius Jackson had 21 points in that game to help snap Louisville's two-game win streak in the series. The Irish have taken each of the last four meetings at Purcell Pavilion, where they are 12-1 and have won five straight.
The latest matchup in South Bend was a 104-101 five-overtime victory for the Irish on Feb. 9, 2013 - the longest game in Big East regular-season history. That was the seventh time over the last 14 in this series that the game went past regulation.