Mar 9, 2012, 11:43 PM EDT
NEW YORK—So the stage is set for Saturday night in prime time.
Louisville used a 19-2 run to pull away in the first half and never looked back, coasting to a 64-50 win over Notre Dame on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
“We’ve wanted to get to this championship game again,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. “We lost it last year in a very close battle, and now we get the opportunity to play for it again, and it’s a great opportunity for the players and all our fans.”
Center Gorgui Dieng, who was limited on Thursday night due to foul trouble, came back strong and well-rested against Notre Dame, tallying 16 points on perfect 8-of-8 shooting and adding six rebounds.
“He’s a great player, and we’re very, very fortunate,” Pitino said, having nothing but positive things to say about the sophomore. “The most important thing he’s learning right now is not making silly fouls, and he’s changing his pace all the time, and that’s making him a much better basketball player.”
Notre Dame appeared to be tired after having to grind out an overtime win against USF on Thursday night. Fatigue may have contributed to their 36% shooting night, which included 3-of-24 outside the paint.
Notre Dame was a No. 7 seed in our latest NCAA tournament projections, and a loss tonight shouldn’t have too drastic an effect.
Rick Pitino’s team has had its shooting struggles this season, but came through against the Irish and shot an impressive 56%, which included a mix of attacking the basket and hitting from the outside.
The Cardinals advance to play Cincinnati, who upset No. 2 Syracuse earlier in the evening to punch its ticket to the title game.
Saturday night’s game will mark the first time in the history of the Big East that the tournament championship game does not feature at least one team from the original Big East. Pitino summed the change up rather bluntly.
“I think Conference USA has come to the Big Apple.”
And we might as well get used to it.
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