Well they did it again. The never-say-die Cardinals overcame all odds and defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 83-77 Friday night, advancing them to the Big East Championship game to take on the UConn Huskies tomorrow night.
The Cardinals looked flat for the majority of the first half and it looked as though things were going to get out of hand for Rick Pitino’s bunch. Louisville tried turning the game into a track meet to counter Notre Dame’s “burn offense” but found themselves falling right into the Irish’s game plan.
“We tried to outscore them but then we weren’t guarding anybody,” Pitino said in his post-game interview.
In the first half, the Cards shot a disappointing 32 percent from the floor while allowing Notre Dame to convert on 17-of-31 field goal attempts and building a 46-32 lead at the intermission.
“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,”’ 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.”
Well that’s exactly what they did. Louisville stormed back in the second half cutting the lead to 7 points in just the first 5 minutes of the half. The Cards hung around and kept it within striking distance until making their move late. With 4:15 remaining the Cards cut the lead to 2 points and suddenly saw the game’s momentum change hands. The Cardinals hopes took a big hit only twenty-three seconds late when Peyton Siva picked up his fifth foul and was forced to watch the rest of the game from the bench. This forced senior Preston Knowles to completely take over the point guard duties, something he isn’t accustomed to.
“His career took on a new dimension tonight,” Pitino said.
Knowles led the Cards with sheer ferocity and confidence as he found himself drawing numerous fouls and racking up points from the free throw line. Knowles went a perfect 6-6 from the foul line. Knowles led the Cardinals with 20 points while Siva added 15 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds. The Cardinals as a whole were able to salt away their deficit by shooting 20-25 from the free throw line (17-for-20 in the second half alone.)
Another big credit to the Cards success was their ability to contain Big East Player of the Year, Ben Hansbrough. The Cards mixing of defenses confused Hansbrough the entire game, forcing him to take unbalanced and ill-advised shots late. Hansbrough shot 3-16 from the field and went 2-8 from beyond the arc.
Louisville will now meet Kemba Walker and the Uconn Huskies tomorrow night at 9pm EST to decide the Champion of the Big East. Louisville swept the season series between the two teams, defeating the Huskies 79-78 on January 29th and 71-58 on February 18.
About the Author
Written by John Buffone
John was born in Rural Valley, Pennsylvania. He attended Clarion University and received a degree in Mass Media Arts and Journalism. He currently hosts "The Sports Zone with John Buffone" on AM 1380 WTYM in Kittanning, PA. John is also a sports columnist for the Kittanning Paper and a contributor to Examiner.com, and CatholicSportsJournal.com.