Cards face Orange for Big East title

There are two teams left standing with one game remaining in the Big East. No. 5 Louisville (27-5) will play No. 18 Syracuse (26-8) Saturday night for the Big East Tournament title in Madison Square Garden.

The Big East championship game stuff is old hat for Syracuse. The Orange has advanced to the title game a Big East-record 14 times – winning five titles, most recently in 2006.

Louisville, however, is making their first championship appearance since joining the league four years ago. The Cardinals, who won the Big East regular-season title with a 16-2 record, are looking to add the Big East Tournament championship to their resume to strengthen their claim on a No. 1 NCAA seed.

"In the past couple years together with this group we haven't had a lot of success in the Garden," Louisville junior shooting guard Jerry Smith said. "For us to get to the championship of the Big East tournament, that's saying a lot for us and what we've overcome."

Louisville hopes to win their first Big East
Tournament title against Syracuse.

The top-seed in the Big East Tournament, Louisville advanced to Saturday's final by beating Providence 73-55 Thursday in the quarterfinal round and Villanova 69-55 in Friday night's semifinals. The Cardinals are on a roll heading into the title game having won nine straight and 19 of their last 21 games.

Syracuse's road to the championship game has been a little more dramatic than Louisville. The Orange had to endure six overtimes to overcome UConn 127-117 in Thursday's quarterfinal matchup before dispatching West Virginia 74-69 in another overtime game. Syracuse beat Seton Hall 89-74 on Wednesday.

"I think definitely after last night we're pretty good in overtime," said Syracuse forward Kristof Ongenaet. "Yesterday, we had six, now we only had one. I think it was really important for us to stick together as a team and play together as a team and I think did a pretty good job of that and that was pretty much it."

Essentially, Syracuse will play their fifth game in four days when they square off with Louisville in Saturday night's championship game. That could give the Cardinals, who had a double-bye and have played just twice this week in New York, a significant advantage.

The two teams have played once this season. Despite shooting just 37 percent from the floor, Louisville beat Syracuse 67-57 Jan. 25 in the Carrier Dome. The Cardinals held the high-scoring Orange nearly 25 points below their season average, limiting SU to just 35 percent shooting, including only 25 percent from three-point range.

The Orange enter tonight's final riding a seven-game winning streak, including an emotional three-game run in the tournament. Syracuse has been scoring at a high clip in the tournament and is averaging more than 80 points per game this season. They'll be seriously tested by Louisville's relentless pressure and stingy zone defense – a defense that has held both tournament opponents to a meager 55 points while forcing 49 turnovers and blocking 14 shots combined in two Big East Tournament games.

"They're the best defensive team we've played and we've played a lost really good ones, especially in this league," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I think those four guards, the pressure they're able to put on the ball for 40 minutes, full court, 40 minutes, it never stops. They get a 10, 12 point lead and that pressure is still there and it's still as intense as it was at the beginning of the game. That's really impressive. It is."

Tip-off for tonight's championship game is at 9 p.m. and the game will be televised live on ESPN.

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