Marra leads Louisville to Big East semifinals

Mike Marra came off the bench to lead third-seeded Louisville to an easy 81-56 win over Marquette Thursday night in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals. The sophomore guard scored 22 points, draining six threes against the Eagles.

Louisville reserve Mike Marra shined under the bright lights at Madison Square Garden Thursday night.

Marra, who scored 22 points, sparked the No. 3-seeded Cardinals to a convincing 81-56 win over No. 11 Marquette in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals. Louisville advances to Friday's semifinal against No. 2-seed Notre Dame, who beat Cincinnati, 89-51, Thursday night.

"We played great defense tonight and highly, highly intelligent offense of sharing the basketball and hitting the open man," Rick Pitino said. "We're a pretty good basketball team even though we're small when we contain the backboard. Our bad games because we are small is what the other team offensively rebounds because we give them second shots and tonight we didn't do that."

After Louisville, which improved to 24-8, fell behind, 11-2, early in the contest, UofL coach Rick Pitino sent Marra into the lineup. It was a wise decision.

Mike Marra led Louisville past Marquette Thursday night. (Getty)
Shortly after entering the contest, Marra quickly drained a pair of three-pointers to help Louisville tie the score at 11. His third three of the first half at 12:48 gave the Cardinals their first lead of the game, 14-13.

Jimmy Butler's short jumper gave Marquette the lead back at 17-16 with nine minutes remaining in the first half, but it was the last lead in the contest for the Golden Eagles, who looked like they were playing their third game in three days.

Louisville then went on a 20-9 run to open a 36-26 advantage with 1:43 left in the half. Five Louisville players scored during that run, which ended on Kyle Kuric's three-pointer. Though Marquette closed the gap to 36-31 at the break, the outcome really wasn't in doubt in the final period.

Marquette cut the margin to 36-33 in the opening minutes of the second period, but Terrence Jennings scored six quick points to put Louisville back in command, 42-33, with 15:33 remaining.

Jimmy Butler's three-point play narrowed Marquette's disadvantage to 42-36, but Marra responded with three consecutive three-pointers in a 2:07 span that gave Louisville a 51-37 lead with 13 minutes remaining.

Marquette never was closer than 10 points after Marra's three-point shooting hot-streak. Darius Johnson-Odom narrowed the Cardinals advantage to 54-44 with ten minutes left, but Chris Smith hit a three-pointer and scored on a layup to give Louisville a 15-point lead.

"He [Marra] made a big difference tonight," Preston Knowles said. "I think it's been great to see him come in and do well. That's our team, we always pass the ball great. If the man is open they're going to shoot it but tonight Mike had the hot hand so I'm glad he had it."

Gorgui Dieng's two baskets gave Louisville a, 70-48, lead with five minutes remaining and the Cardinals cruised into Friday's semifinal against the Irish from that point.

Marra, who played 24 minutes, hit 7 of 11 shots, including 6-10 three-pointers. He also had three assists, two rebounds, a pair of blocks and a steal.

Louisville was outstanding offensively, connecting on 46.9 percent from the floor, including an excellent 13 of 31 from downtown. But the Cardinals were even better defensively and on the boards, holding Marquette to 29.5 percent shooting, and out-rebounding the Golden Eagles 43-36. Louisville, which had 24 assists on its 30 baskets, blocked seven shots and made seven steals.

"I thought Louisville was great," Marquette caoch Buzz Williams stated. "Anytime a team scores 50% of their points from the 3 point line it's probably going to be a long night."

Preston Knowles scored 15 points for Louisville, and Terrence Jennings and Kyle Kuric added 12 and 11. Peyton Siva added eight points and a game-high nine assists.

"Preston shows his multi-talented play because he's been getting about 5, 6, 7 assists a game," said Pitino. "We've been using him as the back-up point and you can see tonight he had 7 assists, and one turnover playing 31 minutes. We're proud of his effort."

Butler led Louisville with 14 points.

No. 4 Syracuse will play No. 9 Connecticut in Friday's first semifinal at 7 p.m. Louisville will play No. 2 Notre Dame in the second semifinal at 9 p.m.

"We'll play them tough tomorrow," Pitino said. "I know we'll bring it tomorrow and get after them. We did a good job at Notre Dame and we expect to do a good job tomorrow."

Post-Game Notebook

* Louisville advances to the BIG EAST Championship semifinal round, where the Cardinals will face No. 2 seed Notre Dame. It will be the first meeting between the Cardinals and Irish in BIG EAST Championship play.

* Louisville improved to 3-1 all-time in BIG EAST Championship quarterfinal games.

* Louisville has won four of its last five games in the BIG EAST Championship.

* Louisville had 24 assists on 30 field goals.

* Louisville held Marquette to a season-low 29.8 field goal percentage.

* Louisville has won 22 of its last 32 postseason tournament games in the last six years.

* Louisville fell to Notre Dame 89-79 in overtime Feb. 9 in the teams' only regular-season meeting. That game produced 13 ties and 10 lead changes before Notre Dame scored the first 14 points of overtime.

* Louisville and Notre Dame have played to overtime five times in their last nine meetings.

* Marquette had a 19-8 advantage at the free throw line against Louisville.

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