Louisville-Notre Dame Preview
By JEFF BARTL
(AP) -- Louisville and Notre Dame have had a knack for playing tight games in recent years, and Rick Pitino expects no different this time around.
The No. 11 Cardinals seek their first victory in South Bend in four tries as they visit the 25th-ranked Fighting Irish on Saturday night.
Louisville's 64-50 victory over Notre Dame in the semifinals of last season's Big East tournament was more of a surprise due to the margin of victory, ending a streak of four straight meetings that went into overtime.
The Cardinals and Irish split those matchups, with each winning a double-OT battle.
Pitino expects Louisville (19-4, 7-3) to get another tough test at the Joyce Center, where it has dropped each of its three visits by an average of 19.7 points since joining the Big East in 2005.
Its last victory in South Bend, Ind., was an 85-82 overtime win Feb. 26, 1994.
"Notre Dame has a great home-court advantage, one of the best in college basketball," Pitino said. "We've been in some really, really tight ball games with Notre Dame, a lot of exciting ones, and this should be another exciting one."
The Cardinals seemingly have gotten back on track since a three-game losing streak from Jan. 19-26, earning a third straight victory with Wednesday's 68-48 win at Rutgers.
"I think we have a long ways to go still," senior guard Peyton Siva said. "This is the Big East and you can go on a three-game losing streak whenever. We just got to continue to keep our heads straight and focus on the next game."
Wednesday marked the sixth time they've held an opponent to fewer than 50 points and the 14th instance the opposition has shot less than 40 percent. Pitino has used a multitude of defensive schemes to slow down opponents as Louisville has played efficient man-to-man and zone defenses while mixing in full-court pressure.
Opponents are scoring 53.3 points per game while shooting 37.8 percent from the field over its last four.
"Whatever defense you play, it's really about understanding the strengths of the other team," Pitino said. "The scouting report has a lot to do with defense."
Offensively, sophomore Wayne Blackshear hit 7 of 11 shots and scored a career-best 19 points in only 14 minutes Wednesday as the rest of the team shot only 38.6 percent.
"The last hurdle for him was putting the ball on the deck and getting better with his handle so he can run picks and rolls," Pitino said. "Once he gets that, look out. He is going to be a hell of a player."
Notre Dame possesses some talent, too, led by leading scorer Jack Cooley, who is averaging 14.8 points and a Big East-best 11.3 rebounds, ranking fifth in the nation in that category.
He scored 10 points and added 11 boards for his fifth double-double in six games Monday, though the Irish (18-5, 6-4) set season worsts for points scored and field goal percentage (34.6) in a 63-47 loss at No. 9 Syracuse.
Notre Dame ranks seventh in the country committing only 10.4 turnovers per game after finishing with 12 versus the Orange, though coach Mike Brey said it seemed worse.
"It feels like we had 20-something turnovers," Brey said. "We fought, we battled, we tried. But we needed to get into a better scoring rhythm."
The Irish have split their last four home games after winning their first 11.
Updated February 8, 2013