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Notre Dame-Louisville Preview

BIG EAST CHAMPIONSHIP SEMIFINALS


NOTRE DAME VS. LOUISVILLE
Where: Madison Square Garden (19,786), in New York
Rankings/Records: No. 24 Notre Dame (25-8), No. 4 Louisville (27-5).
Time/TV: Today at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN.
Radio: Sirius channel 123, XM channel 190 and streaming live at UND.com.
Last meeting: This is the third meeting this season between the two teams and the 32nd all-time. Louisville leads the series with a 19-12 record, a 12-2 mark at home and a 4-7 record at Notre Dame and. Bot squads have won three games against each other on a neutral court. The Cardinals breezed to a 73-57 victory at home on March 9 — one month after ND scratched out a five-overtime win (104-101) in South Bend.

Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant look to keep Notre Dame's momentum rolling tonight against Louisville.

Notre Dame Notes
By now you probably know the story well: Notre Dame has reached the Big East Championship semifinals for the fourth straight year and are looking to advance to the title game for the first time ever in the final year of the league. Louisville, on the other hand, looks to close the door on the Irish in the semis for the third consecutive year.

The Cardinals had Notre Dame’s number in a 64-50 victory last March in the semis and outscored the Irish 14-6 over the last 6:37 in 2011 to eventually earn an 83-77 overtime victory and finals berth. Notre Dame and Louisville have alternated wins over the last nine games in the series. Seven of the 12 contests between the two teams since Louisville joined the league in 2005 have been decided in overtime.

Notre Dame has averaged 71 points per game through its first two league tournament contests this week. It averaged 68.8 points per game in its previous 10 Big East Championship appearances at Madison Square Garden.

The individual point distribution has been surprisingly lopsided for head coach Mike Brey’s sixth-seeded team in this year’s trip to New York. Team leader Jack Cooley, a senior forward that made the All-Big East First Team after averaging 13.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game through the regular season, has scored just eight points and snared 16 boards in 49 combined minutes since arriving in the Big Apple. He’s registered only 35 points in his last five outings.

With Cooley struggling, sophomore Pat Connaughton has found his stroke in the last couple of weeks and is 14-of-23 (.608) from 3-point range over the last three games, which includes the regular-season finale at Louisville. Connaughton’s put up 39 points to pace the Irish this week.

Probable starters:

Jack CooleyContinued to struggle Thursday against Marquette, but kept his head in the game and came up with two critical offensive rebounds and a couple baskets in the second half that helped preserve the win.

Eric AtkinsThe senior point guard is averaging 38.3 minutes, 11.5 points and 5.8 assists per game.

Jerian Grant The junior guard, a second-team all-conference selection, has scored in double-figures in 17 of 20 Big East games this season and is averaging 13.4 points per game. He was 8-of-9 from the stripe against Marquette.

Pat ConnaughtonThe sophomore guard/forward averaged 8.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game this season before his 21-point and 18-point efforts against the Scarlet Knights and Golden Eagles, respectively.

Tom KnightThe senior forward is 27-of-50 (.540) from the field in the last seven games. He is averaging 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, but has notched 26 total points in two tournament games.

Off The Bench
Freshman forwards Cam Biedscheid and Zach Auguste are contributing 6.5 and 3.7 points, respectively, per game. Senior center Garrick Sherman is averaging 6.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per outing, but contributed 16 points and six boards Thursday.

Louisville Overview
Defending Big East tournament champion and No. 2 seed Louisville has won eight in a row and nine of its last 12 games. The last time the Cardinals fell was in the epic five-OT thriller in South Bend. Head coach Rick Pitino’s operation is averaging nearly a 12-point margin of victory over the last eight outings after stomping Villanova 74-55 in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Russ Smith carried the Cardinals with 28 points that included a stellar 10-of-11 performance at the charity stripe. Peyton Siva had a game-high three steals and reached double-digit points for the seventh-straight Big East Tournament game (10 points).

Outlook
Siva needs one more steal to tie Darrell Griffith’s (1976-80) career record of 230 and two for sole possession of the record. Louisville has recorded a total of 83 steals through its last eight games, an average of 10.4 per contest. Notre Dame’s Grant and Atkins have to treat the ball like precious metal in the face of immense pressure, and lazy kick-outs from the post by the Irish big men will result in transition points for the Cardinals. The Irish have been pretty good with the ball as of late, committing just 16 turnovers in the last two games

Marquette outrebounded Notre Dame, 42-31, but the Irish managed to escape. Notre Dame is 18-1 this year when winning the battle on the boards.

Cooley has to snap out of it for the Irish to advance. Though Sherman and Knight have been admirable, Notre Dame has to get at least average efforts from all five starters to have a chance, and Cooley’s slump has put a lot of pressure on the team through the last several games. If he can get rolling early, it should be another tight one between the two rivals.

Morgan’s prediction: Louisville 79, Notre Dame 68

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