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It was the second straight year Syracuse lost in the semifinals. Connecticut beat the Orange 76-71 in overtime last season on its way to the tournament title.
“We’ve won 31 games, and we’ve proven what we can do and we’ve got to get back and we have to play a little better from the beginning,” coach Jim Boeheim said. “Most national championships, not all, but a lot of them, have been won by teams that lose in their conference tournament, including us. So as much as we want to win this tournament, the tournament that starts next week is the only one that matters. Nothing else matters anymore in college basketball.”
Louisville had a much easier time with No. 3 seed Notre Dame.
Gorgui Dieng scored 16 points, Kyle Kuric added 12 and the cat-quick Cardinals (25-9) held the Fighting Irish without a field goal for the final 12:42 in the first half while closing on a 26-4 run. Siva, perhaps the singular star of the tournament so far, had 13 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
“Coach P told us before we got in the Big East, just forget about the regular season, that we’re starting a new season now,” Siva said. “Everybody really bought into that. Everybody really bought into defense on this team, and everybody was really feeding off that.”
Louisville, looking for its second tournament title, denied Notre Dame again in its quest to make the championship game for the first time. The Fighting Irish (22-11) fell to 0-5 in the semifinal round _ all under coach Mike Brey.
Notre Dame shot 2 for 17 (12 percent) from 3-point range and 36 percent overall. The only Big East team to reach the tournament semifinals each of the last three years, the Irish were knocked out by Louisville last season as well, losing 83-77 in overtime after taking a 16-point lead in the first half.
“We had another chance tonight to do something we haven’t done in our program before,” said junior Jack Cooley, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds. “It’s a pretty big disappointment, but we’ve just got to move on to the next tournament. The next one next week is the biggest one in the whole season, so that’s what we’ve got to focus on now.”
The Cardinals, who won the 2009 title, shot 56 percent from the field, their best mark in a Big East tournament game.
The blowout was a bit of a surprise if only because the Irish and Cardinals have played such close contests in recent years.
The previous four games between the teams _ and five of the past six _ went to overtime. The schools split those four meetings, with two going to double OT, including Notre Dame’s 67-65 victory at Louisville on Jan. 7.
But with Siva running the show in Louisville’s new lightweight, neon-orange uniforms, Pitino easily improved to 41-13 in conference tournaments. He goes for his 10th title Saturday night after losing to Connecticut 69-66 in last season’s final.
“We’ve wanted to get to this championship game again,” Pitino said. “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.”
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