Unlike last year's semi-final loss to Louisville, Mike Brey's Fighting Irish answered every challenge presented. But like each of the previous five semi-finals appearances his program has made over the last 11 seasons including berths in each of the last four, Notre Dame wasn't good enough to finish with a win against the league's elite.
Louisville beat Notre Dame 69-57 last night. And for anyone that's watched the evolution of the Cardinals over the last two seasons, from their Big East Championship and Final Four run in 2012, to another berth in the conference title game in 2013, it's been clear -- Louisville is not only better than Notre Dame, the Cardinals rank among the nation's best.
The Irish were led by their all-league tandem of Jerian Grant and Jack Cooley, both scored 14 points though Grant committed an uncharacteristic six turnovers. Garrick Sherman contributed eight points off the bench, all in the first half.
Louisville was again buoyed by its guards, Russ Smith and Peyton Siva combing for 32 points and 12 assists, with Smith scoring a game-high 20 and Siva tying a Big East Tournament record with seven steals. Swingman Luke Hancock added 11 off the bench to round out the game's double figures scorers.
It was Hancock's three-poitn shot in transition that turned an eight-point Louisville lead to 11, 55-44, with 4:10 to play -- effectively the death blow in a game that the Cardinals controlled but could not seize over the first 36 minutes.
The Irish committed 16 turnovers and allowed the Cardinals to hit 7 of 14 from beyond the arc.
Sophomore swingman Pat Connaughton was held to eight points and two three-point shots. Connaughton had hit 12 triples over the previous two contests but squeezed off just six shots (3-6) vs. the suffocating Cardinals defense. He added a team-best eight rebounds in defeat.
Louisville advanced to take on #5 seed Syracuse in tomorrow's conference championship game. The teams split a pair of meetings in the regular season, both winning on the other's home floor.
Notre Dame returns home to await its seeding on Selection Sunday for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. The Irish are expected to have secured at least a No. 6 seed with their performance this week in congress with 25 wins and an 11-7 regular season conference mark.