Louisville, KY (Sports Network) - With the potential to win the Big East Conference regular-season title, the eighth-ranked Louisville Cardinals close out the 2012-13 campaign with a home game against the 24th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
If you recall, these two teams played an epic five-overtime thriller in South Bend on Feb. 9, with the Irish prevailing, 104-101. Despite the setback, Louisville leads the all-time series, 18-12.
Notre Dame has enjoyed a tremendous season of its own, logging a 23-7 overall record, which includes an 11-6 league ledger. While the Irish can not win the Big East title, they can improve their seeding in the upcoming conference tournament by winning this contest. UND has claimed victory in three of its last four games, the most recent of which being a 66-40 rout of St. John's at home on Tuesday night.
Louisville recently gave head coach Rick Pitino his 300th win at the school, and the team comes into this clash sporting a 25-5 overall record, which includes a 13-4 conference mark. Currently tied with both Georgetown and Marquette atop the Big East standings, the Cardinals bring a six-game win streak into this showdown, and they'll try to improve to an impressive 15-1 at home with a victory.
Notre Dame got off to a horrendous start in its recent clash with St. John's, shooting a mere 28 percent from the field in the field half, but after intermission the Red Storm turned it on, draining 68 percent of their total shots en route to a comfortable win. Jerian Grant scored 21 points and dished out eight assists, Eric Atkins tallied 15 points and seven helpers, and Jack Cooley logged a double-double consisting of 12 points and 13 rebounds, all of which the Irish used to earn their 23rd victory of the season. St. John's was decent to start the game (.414 FG percentage), but it really struggled after the break, hitting a horrific 5-of-27 field goal attempts (.185), and it missed 12 of its 13 3-point tries in the contest. Cooley and Grant rank one- two on the team's scoring list for the season, checking in at 13.8 and 13.5 ppg, respectively, with the former also serving as the Big East's top rebounder with 10.7 rpg. Grant and Atkins combine for 11.6 of the team's league-leading 17.5 apg, and UND is putting up 71.2 ppg while allowing just 62.6 ppg. The Irish are the top shooting team in the Big East both from the field overall (.473), as well as from 3-point range (.373).
Louisville was last in action on Monday night at home against Cincinnati, and the Cardinals claimed a 67-51 decision to give Pitino his milestone victory. The game was close for a while, but a back-breaking 25-7 run by UofL in the second half coupled with the fact that it goaded the Bearcats into 21 turnovers, helped matters immensely. Russ Smith was high man in the game with 18 points, while Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng tacked on 11 points apiece. As a team, the Cardinals knocked down 48.3 percent of their field goal attempts, but went just 3-of-9 from beyond the arc. Louisville dominated the paint to the tune of a 42-16 scoring differential, and it held UC to 35.3 percent field goal efficiency, which included a 6-of-21 showing from 3-point land. Smith is far and away the leading scorer on this team, as he nets 18.4 ppg, and Chane Behanan is the only other double-digit performer with 10.5 ppg. Balance is the key to the Cardinals' success, as four others average between 7.1 and 9.9 ppg. Pitino's club is scoring a league-high 73.6 ppg while permitting only 58.0 ppg, and that type of favorable margin (Big East-best +15.5) has led it to the success it has achieved to this point.