In one of the wildest games in the modern NCAA era, the number 11 University of Louisville basketball Cardinals (19-5, 7-4 Big East) found their way to the Joyce Center in South Bend to play the 25th ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (19-5, 7-4). The Cards hadn’t beaten the Irish in their house since 1994. 4 out of their last 5 games ended up in overtime and this one was no different. Notre Dame finally prevailed way past midnight 104-101.
Both teams started slow in a feeling out process. It seems to have become a signature of Louisville on the road. Luckily for the Cards, the Irish had some trouble finding the rim as well. That seemed to be a factor of defense as well as nerves. UofL rotated between zone and man-to-man early, which Notre Dame had trouble figuring out.
The Cards, on the other hand, had trouble figuring out how to put the ball in the basket from long range. Russ Smith, Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock all took triples and missed most of them. Blackshear had returned to the starting lineup after recovering from a shoulder injury and a red hot game against Rutgers.
The Irish kept the game in the half court and milked the shot clock on nearly every possession, as is their strength. It helped finally bring up their shooting percentage, but all those extra passes gave the Cards a chance to get steals, as is their strength.
Considered one of the best backcourt combinations in the nation, Smith and Peyton Siva remained quiet on the offensive end. At the break, Notre Dame led 27-24 with Siva and Blackshear scoreless.
The second half began much like the first with cold shooting by both teams, though the Cards regained the lead early on. Louisville’s shooting was purely poor technique. Notre Dame had trouble with the Cardinal defense. You had the feeling the Cards could break it open at any time if only their shots would go down.
That’s when the Irish tightened up their interior defense to keep the game close so Louisville did the same. Both teams ended up with foul trouble because of the intensity. When Notre Dame’s star player Jack Cooley fouled out with nearly seven minutes to go, the game seemed like it would turn.
Meanwhile, Chane Behanan started getting touches inside and putting in the 5 to 10 foot jump shot. The lane opened up, which is where the Irish was successful denying early in the game and Behanan delivered in a big way.
Gorgui Dieng played with four fouls for a long time before being disqualified, but what Notre Dame didn’t have was a back up with Stephen Van Treese’s tenacity. Coach Rick Pitino played his Senegalese big man situationally and was successful for quite a while.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton
Late threes by Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant made the game closer. Then a botched charging call that became a blocking foul on Wayne Blackshear sent the game into overtime. Not that these two teams should have been surprised by that.
Notre Dame took the lead early in the overtime but the Cards came back to tie, then lead, then tie in the up and down extra stanza. With the last possession, Russ Smith took the last shot, ill advised at NBA three point distance, and missed to send it into double overtime. That mental lapse drove Pitino crazy.
In the second overtime, Hancock’s hot shooting hand cooled off a bit and he couldn’t seem to make a shot. Siva fouled out with only 2 points and 4 assists. You kept wanting to get the good Russdiculous to get started, but that never happened because the ridiculous one reared it’s ugly head and stayed all night.
And then it became triple overtime on a three by the Irish’s Cameron Biedscheid. With Siva out, Smith took the point and left Cardinal fans nerves frazzled considering the way the game was going for the junior.
And then there came a fourth overtime. It came down to Notre Dame’s adrenaline and Louisville’s athleticism. And since the accumulated extra minutes added up to another half of basketball, it was all on the line one more time. Or so it seemed.
But then again, who would have thought it would go to five overtimes? The luck of the Irish made the last shot fall for Zach Auguste at the end of the fourth OT. With Siva and Dieng out, he fouled out in the fourth overtime, who would step up? Montrezl Harrell stepped on the free throw line for 2, trailing by two and he missed both badly.
Badly. That and that aforementioned bad Russdiculousness cost Louisville the game. Behanan tried everything to will the Cards to victory, scoring a career 30 points and pulling in 14 rebounds. Hancock, the shooter with no memory of a bad shot, poured in 22.
A win could have put the Cards back in the top 10 with the crazy upsets over the weekend, including Indiana, Michigan and Kansas. That’s not to be, however these are the kinds of games that get you ready for March, which is where Pitino and company are always aiming for.
The Cards get a rest, and they’ll need it after 65 minutes of basketball, when they come back home to the KFC Yum! Center on Valentine’s Day to take on St. John’s with a late ESPN top off at 9pm.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton