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Men’s Basketball: Irish fall again to Louisville in semifinals

Mike Monaco | Saturday, March 16, 2013


NEW YORK – At a tournament typified by history, the No. 24 Irish couldn’t rewrite the story in the last chapter.

Notre Dame (25-9) fell to No. 4 Louisville 69-57 in the Big East semifinals Friday night at Madison Square Garden in New York for the third consecutive year.

“I’m very disappointed we could never get to Saturday,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I guess I’ve got to say ‘Can we get to Sunday afternoon now in the new league or whatever?’ I’m thrilled that we played in the semis on such a magical night here. [There’s] a little bit of unfinished business but we’ll get over it quickly and get ready to prepare for next week.”

The Irish will head to the ACC next season having never reached a Big East title game during their 18 seasons in the conference.

The Louisville backcourt – senior guard Peyton Siva and junior guard Russ Smith – propelled the No. 2 seed Cardinals (28-5) over the Irish for the second time in seven days. Siva tallied 12 points, six assists and seven steals while Smith added 20 points and six assists. Louisville’s constant backcourt pressure led, in part, to 16 Irish turnovers, 10 of which came in the first half.

“We weren’t very good in the first half, and a lot of that was Louisville’s defense,” Brey said. “I love that we fought back and had some chances, but just probably too many turnovers at key times and that’s what they do. They impose their will on us too much to really close the gap or think we could win it.”

Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Siva’s defense saved the Cardinals on countless occasions.

“I just thought we were out of place a couple times and Peyton Siva just kept bailing us out with one rotation after another,” Pitino said. “He’s just an incredible player.”

The No. 6 seed Irish stayed within striking distance throughout the game but never led against the Cardinals, who broke out to a 13-point lead with 2:39 remaining in the game. Notre Dame trimmed the lead to seven, 61-54, with 1:35 left, but it was too little, too late.

The Irish, who were playing in their fourth consecutive Big East semifinal, fell for the fourth-straight year. The Cardinals, meanwhile, advanced to their third-straight Big East championship behind their trademark pressure defense.

“Their pressure in the full court really kind of started us off going a little fast and by the time we got started on offense, there wasn’t much time left on the clock,” Irish senior forward Jack Cooley said. “All their defense stems from the pressure.”

Louisville junior forward Luke Hancock drained a corner 3-pointer to close out the first half and give Louisville a 32-25 lead at the intermission.

The Cardinals finished the first half on a 10-3 run.

Louisville quickly extended its lead to nine after the break, but Notre Dame responded with the next six points of its own to trim the deficit to three, 34-31, at the 15:35 mark of the second half. The Irish never got closer than three points the rest of the way.

Notre Dame later trailed by four, 41-37, but Smith got a finger roll to go and Siva spun home a scoop shot off the glass to extend the Louisville lead to 45-37 with 9:51 left.

The Irish were within eight in the final five minutes, but Smith fired a cross-court pass to Hancock in transition, and the marksman grooved another three right in front of the Louisville bench to give the Cardinals a 55-44 lead with 4:05 to play.

The Irish dealt with foul trouble for much of the first half and went the final 3:20 of the first half with four players – senior forward Jack Cooley, junior guard Eric Atkins, senior center Garrick Sherman and sophomore forward Pat Connaughton  – with two fouls apiece.

Notre Dame had more fouls and turnovers,10 each, than made field goals, nine, in the opening 20 minutes.

Cooley and junior guard Jerian Grant led the Irish with 14 points each. Connaughton chipped in nine points and eight rebounds while Atkins fouled out down the stretch with seven points, two rebounds and one assist.

Despite the loss, Brey said he is confident in the Irish entering next week’s NCAA tournament.

“I think there’s a confidence coming out of here,” Brey said. “We played well against Rutgers [on Wednesday]. We beat a heck of a team in Marquette [on Thursday] on a neutral floor. And you know this team that’s going to be a one seed that beat us tonight, we had our chances. We were right there.

“So I think there’s a lot for us to feel good about, that this tournament maybe got us tougher and more confident for next week.”

On Sunday the Irish drew the No. 7 seed in the West Region in the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame will face off Friday against No. 10 Iowa State at 9:45 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio.

Contact Mike Monaco at [email protected]