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