After doing an impromptu photo session with President Bill Clinton Thursday night as a result of their victory over Villanova, the University of Louisville basketball Cardinals stepped back into Madison Square Garden Friday night to do battle one more time with Notre Dame. While it was closer than last Saturday, the Cardinals came out victorious 69-57.
The Cards wanted to get into the Big East final to take on Syracuse, who won an overtime thriller against Georgetown in the other semifinal 58-55. That would make it the third time they played the Orange this season after taking on the Fighting Irish for a third time. Notice a pattern forming.
Louisville didn't seem fazed by the lime-green leprechaun uniforms Notre Dame donned. You could tell by the opening baskets of the game: a three pointer by senior point guard Peyton Siva and another by Wayne Blackshear. Siva would go on to lead the Cards in the first half by putting in 8 points and dishing a couple of assists.
The outcome seemed inevitable from the start as the Cards ran the floor, hustled on defense and got out on the fast break a half step quicker than the Irish.
Louisville also tried an interesting line up with Gorgui Dieng and Stephan Van Treese on the floor at the same time as coach Rick Pitino tried to get his front line to get more rebounds. It worked.
Compared to the previous night, the officiating was a bit more balanced for most of the game. The referees still "let them play," which is a euphemism for tons of uncalled contact, but both teams could more easily understand how much they could get away with.
Into the break, the Cards led 32-25, even with Notre Dame coach Mike Brey going through the type of histrionics that would have gotten any other coach technical fouls. He nearly ran to half court to call a timeout and then right at the end of the half when Luke Hancock nailed a triple, he slammed the scorers table, spilling water onto the court.
In the second half, Louisville came out with Siva setting the new all-time record for Cardinal steals, passing the legendary Darrell Griffith. Less than a minute later, he had already added to his total as the defensive pressure remained intense. Siva finished the game with 12 points, 6 assists and 7 steals.
Kevin Ware went down with an ankle injury early in the second half which could have been a problem especially when Jerian Grant hammered Siva to stop a fast break soon after. Siva ended up being okay but coach Pitino let the officials have it over the obvious intentional foul.
Every time the Irish tried to mount a sustained attack, Louisville managed to cut it short a jumper or a lay up. Notre Dame got to with a couple of points but then a Smith triple and a Siva finger roll gave the Cardinals their mojo back and they went up by as many as 13 late in the game.
In the last 2 minutes the Irish were out of timeouts so they started fouling Louisville early in the shot clock and daring the Cardinals to beat them from the free throw line.
That’s classic basketball strategy but ultimately doomed to failure because someone forgot to tell them that Dieng has been much better from the line in the second half of the season. And when Smith, Luke Hancock or Siva toed the line, the game stayed in the W column for Louisville.
Smith led all scorers with 20. Hancock had 11.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton