Tonight, for the second consecutive year, two seed Notre Dame plays Louisville in the second semifinal of the Big East tournament. Despite being a relative newcomer to the conference, Louisville has had considerably more success in Madison Square Garden than Notre Dame, with their 2009 championship being considerably more impressive than the Irish's zero Saturday night appearances.
This occasion seemed like the perfect time to take a little walk down memory lane, as the brief series has provided no shortage of memorable moments and absurdly close games. Since Louisville joined the Big East for the '05-'06 season, the Irish and Cardinals have squared off nine times, with over half of the games requiring bonus basketball. Here's a brief rundown of the Brey/Pitino battles:
February 4th, 2006 in Louisville
Cardinals 89 Irish 86 (In OT)
Normally a three-point loss in OT when you gave up a game-tying shot to Taquan Dean at the end of regulation would stand out, but not for the '05-'06 Irish. That year they lost ten conference games, only one by more than six points (and that was an eight-point margin). They lost at Pitt by three in double OT, at Marquette by two, to Georgetown at home by three in double OT, to Villanova at home by two, to West Virginia at home by one, the previously-mentioned three-point loss at Louisville and a one-point loss at UConn in OT. They ended the season by losing in double OT in the first round of the NIT, surprising no one.
This game was early on a Saturday, and my friend Matt and I were working Late Night Olympics in the Joyce Center that night. Coach Brey walked past us and Matt tried to offer some encouragement. "Good game today, Coach." Brey forced a smile, but we could tell his heart was hurting as he replied, "Yeah. Thanks. Shit," and continued walking.
Cardinals lead series 1-0 (Cards +3). (1 total overtime)
January 3rd, 2007 in South Bend
Irish 78 Cardinals 62
This game took place the same day as the Sugar Bowl between LSU and Notre Dame, which was also the fourth day in my inaugural visit to New Orleans. Situated in the upper deck of the Super Dome, body slowing shutting down from seventy-plus hours of hand grenades and questionable decisions, I remember getting a text telling me that the bright side of the day was that the Irish had won their Big East opener against the Cards. Granted, I would have traded a 1-0 start in the Big East for a BCS bowl, but we don't always get to pick our triumphs on a given day. This was the last game of the season that Kyle McAlarney played before being kicked off the team in one of the most bullshit things ResLife has ever done, which is really saying something. I'm also pretty sure this is the day Nick Saban took the Alabama job, as all the LSU fans kept telling us how much they were going to whip up on him for his betrayal.
(If you couldn't tell from that run down, I don't think I ever saw a second of this game.)
Series tied at 1, Irish (+13) (1 total overtime)
February 28th, 2008 in Louisville
Cardinals 80 Irish 75
The final score was not really indicative of how comfortable Louisville's lead was during most of the game (they were up fifteen at halftime), right up until Luke Harangody started banging in three-pointers, eventually totaling forty points in a performance that probably helped him win Big East Player of the Year. I remember giant white guy Dave Padgett being absolutely unstoppable in this game, and the box score backs me up, as he was 10-of-14 from the field with 26 points. Gody's line was pretty ridiculous, putting up a 40-12-4-2-2 in hostile territory.
Cardinals lead series 2-1 (Irish +8) (1 total overtime)
January 12th, 2009 in Louisville
Cardinals 87 Irish 73 (In OT)
How do you lose a game by fourteen in overtime? Start with Luke Harangody being held scoreless during the extra period and Terrence Williams flirting with a triple double (24-16-8). This Cardinals team threw out a pretty absurd front line of Williams, Samardo Samuels and Earl Clark that was particularly deadly on the nights that Clark decided to show up. (This was one of them, as he put at 15-10-4 himself.) Notre Dame's bench scored two points in this game and Tory Jackson had seven turnovers, including one at the end of regulation when the Irish had the chance to steal a road win.
Cardinals lead series 3-1 (Cards +6) (2 total overtimes)
February 12th, 2009 in South Bend
Irish 90 Cardinals 57
This game didn't make sense while we were watching it, didn't make sense when we were rewatching it on DVR that night to make sure it actually happened and still doesn't really make sense, other than to posit that a team on a brutal seven-game losing streak (five to teams in the top twelve) took out a lot of pent-up frustration on the seventh-ranked Cardinals. Harangody tossed up a 32 and 17, Ryan Ayers and K-Mac each had five threes and nobody on Louisville scored more than 11 points.
Cardinals lead series 3-2 (Irish +27) (2 total overtimes)
February 17th, 2010 in Louisville
Cardinals 91 Irish 89 (in double OT)
Even though the Irish ended up falling in this game, it still serves as a fond memory and a great example of a moral victory. On a two-game losing streak and having lost Harangody to injury, the Irish were supposed to be done for the season (sound familiar?). But they battled the Cardinals for fifty minutes, sending Samardo Samuels to the line for nineteen free throws (he made sixteen on his way to a career-high thirty six points), as the Louisville big man fouled out freshmen big men Jack Cooley and Mike Broghammer with relative ease. This was a coming out party for the Tim Abromaitis/Ben Hansbrough combination, as they went for fifty points, while Jackson scored nineteen and dished out seven assists. Following this game, Tory and the Miracles would win six straight, earning the squad an unlikely NCAA bid and not falling until the Big East tournament semifinals.
Cardinals lead series 4-2 (Irish +25) (4 total overtimes)
February 9th, 2011 in South Bend
Irish 89 Cardinals 79 (In OT)
Another OT game in the series that turned into a mini-blowout, with Carleton Scott's nine points in overtime helping the Irish score the first fourteen of the extra session. The Irish got very lucky to even make it to overtime, as Preston Knowles had a couple of shots at untying the game late in regulation. Hansbrough and Abro again went off, combining for 48, while Kyle Kuric led the visitors with 28.
Cardinals lead series 4-3 (Irish +35) (5 total overtimes)
March 11th, 2011 in New York City
Cardinals 83 Irish 79 (In OT)
A year later and this one still stings. The Irish - who were coming off a 38-point dissection of Cincy in the quarters - blew a fourteen-point halftime lead. This basically marked the end of the Notre Dame season, as Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough got into a funk (3-of-16 shooting, 6 turnovers) that carried into the NCAA tournament. The Irish missed a chance to play UConn in the final, a team they had already beaten twice that season, including the previous weekend in Storrs. The definition of a missed opportunity.
Cardinals lead series 5-3 (Irish +31) (6 total overtimes)
January 7th, 2012 in Louisville
Irish 67 Cardinals 65 (In double OT)
Happier memories! Third Big East game of the season, at the tenth-ranked Cardinals - in a city where the Irish hadn't won in decades - didn't seem promising, and really wasn't until the very end of regulation, when an Eric Atkins three sent the game into overtime. The first overtime bordered on farce, with Kuric getting fouled shooting a three with eleven seconds left, home team trailing by one. He made two-of-three before Atkins raced down to the other end, drawing a foul in the lane with three seconds left. He split the pair and the game went into yet another bonus session that was tight until Atkins again took over, using a personal 6-0 run in the final minute to steal one for the Irish. If there was a game where the 2012 Irish really started to grow up, this rally on the road seems as good an example as any.
Cardinals lead series 5-4 (Irish +33) (8 total overtimes)
If you're keeping track at home, we're just shy of one overtime for every game played, and if you remove the Irish thrashing in 2009, the two teams are dead even in margin of victory. Since Louisville joined the conference, only one team has won on the other's home floor (the Irish this year), and the Cardinals won the only previous neutral floor match-up in last years semis. The two coaches have a healthy respect for one another, and with the future of the Big East unknown (there are persistent rumors of the Big XII eyeing Louisville, along with the triannual "Notre Dame is joining a conference" chatter), we should enjoy these battles while we have them.
Remember: No matter how this game looks early, just assume it will stretch into Saturday morning, and plan your evening accordingly.