Opportunity Lost

Notre Dame saw its 14-point halftime lead slowly dissipate before falling to Louisville in overtime, 83-77.

New York – Whether Mike Brey's Fighting Irish receive a No. 1 or No. 2 seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament is less important than its ability to rebound.

Rebound from the disappointment of an opportunity lost. Rebound from a lackadaisical performance in the most important second half of their season. And of course, to rebound the basketball, period.

Louisville erased a 14-point half-time deficit to upend #4 Notre Dame in overtime Friday night, 83-77, in the Big East semi-finals at Madison Square Garden.

"We couldn't get into a very good offensive rhythm (in the second half)," Brey noted of a final 25 minutes that saw the Irish hit just eight of 28 shots from the floor including 3 of 13 from beyond the arc. "Having said that, we had some very good looks down the stretch; didn't make ‘em, and they got us."

An eternal optimist, Brey was nonetheless candid regarding the team's post-game mindset.

"We invested a lot here," he said of what the Irish felt would be a three-day championship march. "It's kind of a crushing blow. I'm glad we have a couple of days to kind of get our legs under us."

In the recovery process between now and next weekend's first-round NCAA Tournament game, Brey's Irish will have to rediscover the element of the game that allowed the 2011 version to stand apart and above the bulk of their predecessors – the ability to defend with toughness and focus.

And what is of utmost importance is that the Irish find a way to defend the high pick-and-roll before their next talented opponent-to-be-named later attacks in the same consistent, determined fashion as did the victorious Cardinals tonight.

Basketball's oldest offensive play was the primary culprit in Notre Dame's second half swoon as Louisville repeatedly attacked with guards Peyton Siva and Preston Knowles receiving high screens from mobile center Terrence Jennings.

"We felt we could get good things by taking it to the goal and if we didn't get what we wanted, they had to leave (Jennings), and he could go to work," said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. "We run three or four different sets that end up in a pick-and-roll. We were going to take them off the pick-and-roll and try to create."

Siva appeared unstoppable at times, blowing by Notre Dame's defense with little hesitation out top. But that tactic appeared lost with the contest in doubt late.

"When Peyton (Siva) went out he was playing really well," Pitino noted of his point guard who fouled out with 3:53 remaining. "I'm really happy that about a month ago we started playing Preston (Knowles) at the point, because it paid dividends for us down the stretch."

Those dividends manifested in an obscene 23 offensive rebounds and 21 second chance points, not to mention eight Knowles points in regulation's final 2:47. No other Cardinals player scored in that span.

"I think you have to give the credit to them, they really went to the offensive glass and that's where they kind of hurt us in the second half," said Irish senior Scott Martin who scored a season-high 21 points. "Their put-backs and tip-ins hurt us down the stretch."

War of attrition

While the high pick-and-roll and subsequent attack of the offensive glass keyed the Cardinals' comeback, it was Pitino's patented pressure defense that proved the difference as a 14-point Irish halftime lead slowly dissolved over the final 20 minutes.

"I'm really proud of our effort tonight because we didn't play good basketball, especially in the first half," Pitino noted. "In the second half I said, ‘You guys have one shot at winning this game: you have to take their legs out from under them and it'll pay off at the end.'

"In the end, if we make our comeback they won't have their legs."

The Irish did not have those collective legs, surrendering the lead for the first time since the 10:34 mark of the opening half when Knowles tipped in his own missed jump shot for a 70-68 lead with 1:49 remaining.

The Irish scored four of the next six points on layups by Carleton Scott and Scott Martin, but after a crucial defensive stop, Ben Hansbrough's pull-up jump shot in the waning seconds of regulation rimmed out, sending the teams to overtime for the fifth time in the last eight meetings, sixth in the last 10, and second time this year.

Hansbrough, the Big East Player of the Year, struggled mightily throughout the contest, missing 13 of his 16 field goal attempts as well as a pair of crucial free throws with the Irish clinging to a two-point lead with less than four minutes remaining.

"Physically he's fine. I think it's a perfect example of a guy who almost wanted it ‘too much' tonight," Brey said of the driven senior star. "He has wanted it so much for his group and that's why we got to the position we achieved in the regular season. I just want to get him back and calm him down a little bit before we get to the (NCAA Tournament).

"It was such an emotional investment by him…you can tie yourself up in knots sometimes."

Fantastic at first

The first half was a continuation of Notre Dame's quarterfinal win Thursday over Cincinnati – an offensive clinic by the Irish augmented with stout, timely defense and a commanding 46-32 lead at the break.

The second stanza of the semi-final, heretofore known to those that sat through it as, "The half in which time stood still," saw the proceedings slow to a crawl thanks to Louisville's busy hands, determined aggressive pressure, and Notre Dame's deliberate, almost cautious pace.

Myriad quick whistles didn't lend for an aesthetically pleasing final 25 minutes as the teams combined for 10 fouls in a 1:48-span midway through the second stanza, with both entering the bonus by the 11:34 mark of the half.

Louisville methodically chipped away at Notre Dame's halftime lead, cutting it in half by the 16:00 mark, to four with 14:03 to play, and after falling back down by 10, to a one possession game with 4:19 remaining.

The Irish led briefly in the extra session after a Hansbrough three-pointer offered a 75-74 lead, but Louisville scored six of the next eight for an 80-77 advantage. And when Tim Abromaitis' open corner bomb bounced off the iron, and Ben Hansbrough's did the same one possession later, the Cardinals were able to seal the deal and a spot in the Big East finals at the free throw line.

Louisville connected on 20-25 free throws on the evening, including 17-20 after the break.

The Irish placed five in double figures with Martin's game-high 21 points and eight rebounds the top effort. Abromaitis added 16 points while both Hansbrough and Nash scored 13 and Carleton Scott added 10.

Abromaitis and Martin starred early, hitting a combined 10 of 13 first half shots for 25 of the team's first 46 points.

Knowles led the victors with 20 on 19 field goal attempts, while Siva chipped in 15 points and seven assists with just one turnover. The league's quickest guard helped harass Hansbrough into a season-high six errors on the evening. Jennings added 16 while Kyle Kuric scored 14, playing all 45 minutes for Louisville.

The Cardinals advance to take on the evening's first semi-final winner, Connecticut, in Saturday night's finale. Louisville has defeated the Huskies twice this season, once in double overtime in Storrs.

Both semi-final contests saw overtime periods, a Big East Tournament first.

Notre Dame (26-6) will play either next Thursday or Friday vs. an opponent and site to be revealed this Sunday by the NCAA Selection Committee

The most recent (post-game) Bracketology update from ESPN's Joe Lunardi shows the Irish as the projected No. 1 seed in the Southeast Region.

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