Irish fall again on Friday

Irish fall again on Friday

Notre Dame lost in the Big East Tournament semi-finals for the third straight season and fourth time in the last six years. Unlike previous installments, this one wasn't close.

NEW YORK – Mike Brey's third-seeded Irish showed early signs of life in Friday night's semi-finals matchup vs. Louisville, a promising development for Irish fans after slow starts had plagued the team throughout conference play, even during its nine-game winning streak.

But Notre Dame's tournament-ending defeat was the result of another malady that consistently infected the squad in 2012: a massive scoring drought.

After taking a 15-9 lead at the 11:44 mark, Notre Dame failed to connect on a field goal over the remaining 12:44 of the first half, part of a 26-4 Louisville run that opened up a healthy 35-19 halftime lead en route to a 64-50 victory.

With the win, Louisville advanced to the Big East Championship game for the second straight season, both at the expense of Brey's Irish. The Cardinals will take on Cincinnati in a matchup of two longtime Metro Conference and Conference USA foes.

"They defended the heck out of us. We had some open looks that we had to knock down when they were in the midst of their run and we never got any of those," Brey said. "I give a lot of credit to Louisville, just making us uncomfortable with their defense."

Louisville center Gorgi Deng connected on all eight of his shots and led Louisville with 16 points in 37 minutes.

"We wanted to go inside to Gorgi because they don't trap the post," Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said post-game. "He did a very good job of going to a variety of different moves, especially his jump hook. He's becoming a terrific player."

Aiding Deng's cause was the brilliance of penetrating point guard Peyton Siva, who finished with 13 points, 8 assists, and seven rebounds all-the-while imposing his will off the dribble and with defensive ball pressure against Irish guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant.

"I put what I call the ‘two mosquitoes' in the game, with Russ (Smith) and Peyton. They just bother people; gnaw at people and really get under your skin. That gave us a big lift defensively.

Grant and Atkins combined for eight turnovers vs. the Cardinals relentless pressure and were outplayed by the aggressive, lightning-quick Siva.

"They're hard to keep out of the lane," Brey offered. "Siva is so good getting in there."

Shooting Woes Continue

Notre Dame missed 10 of its 11 three-point shots in the first half and 21 of their 28 shots overall prior to the break. Louisville wasn't much better from long range early (2-9) but connected on a remarkable 13 of 17 inside the arc in the opening 20 minutes to forge a 16-point edge.

The Irish had 12 offensive rebounds in the first half but managed just six points from their myriad second chance opportunities.

Brey's bunch exacerbated their offensive woes with a 10 of 19 performance from the charity stripe.

"We had some free throw situations that would have stopped the bleeding and maybe given hope, but we couldn't make a free throw, either," Brey lamented post-game.

Notre Dame pulled to within 12, 39-27 with 16:07 remaining but could never put together an extended run, largely the result of open misfires from long range. Louisville opened up second half leads of 53-29 at the 11:28 mark and 58-37 after a Chane Behanan dunk with 7:46 remaining.

Louisville hit 23 of 35 shots inside the arc and scored 38 points in the paint over the course of the contest.

Atkins led the Irish with 12 points while junior center Jack Cooley added 11 points and 11 rebounds, nine from the offensive glass. Cooley though struggled with short misses early at point blank range, a reality that inflated his final number of caroms.

It was the third straight season in which the Irish failed to advance from the semi-finals to the championship round, and fifth in Brey's 12 seasons at the helm. Notre Dame will next play at an NCAA Tournament site to be determined Sunday evening.

Saturday's championship game between Louisville and Cincinnati will be the first in the 30 year history of the Big East that does not include an original conference member. It is also the last with flagship program Syracuse and former champions Pittsburgh and West Virginia. The Mountaineers move onto the Big 12 while the Orange and Panthers will join the ACC.

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