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“The fact that we’re sitting here and this is the last Big East tournament is beyond ridiculous,” he added. “This is the greatest tradition in college athletics, this tournament, at one site for over 30-something years.”

Boeheim and his father-son coaching counterparts at Georgetown have plenty to do with that. John Thompson coached the Hoyas to their first six tournament titles before John Thompson III won their last one in 2007, which followed consecutive championships for Syracuse.

The teams played twice this season and Georgetown took both games, including a 61-39 blowout last Saturday.

“Not too many teams have done that. I remember beating them twice, and the third time they beat us. That was in the Big East tournament. We’re trying to pretty much return the favor,” Syracuse senior guard Brandon Triche said. “That means a lot. Anybody that beats you by 20 points, you want revenge.”

Louisville got some revenge against Notre Dame last Saturday, winning 73-57 one month after a 104-101 defeat in five overtimes at South Bend. It was the longest regular-season game in Big East history and maybe the most exciting contest in the country all season. It also was the only loss in the last 12 games for the Cardinals, the defending tournament champion.

Five of the last seven and six of the past nine matchups between Notre Dame and Louisville have gone to overtime. The Fighting Irish (25-8) reached the Big East semifinals for the fourth straight year, but they’ve never been to the championship game. The last two times the road ended against _ who else? _ Louisville.

“Here we go again,” Brey said Thursday night after the sixth-seeded Irish held off Marquette. “When the games have been in overtime, that’s when we’ve gotten our wins. When they’ve won, they’ve usually thumped us. I hope it’s overtime. They’re really good. We just played them last Saturday, and they’re playing with a great rhythm, and it comes down to taking care of the ball.”

Second-seeded Louisville (27-5) smothered Villanova 74-55, forcing the seventh-seeded Wildcats (20-13) into 25 unsightly turnovers. Russ Smith scored 28 points in a bittersweet homecoming, hours after the death of his esteemed high school coach.

Back home in New York, Smith received sad news early in the day about Jack Curran, the longtime coaching great at Archbishop Molloy High School, who died Thursday at 82. He was among the nation’s winningest prep coaches in basketball and baseball.

“It was really hard for me for about 45 minutes when I was on the bus crying and stuff,” Smith said. “It was almost heartbreaking to think about it.

“Today was definitely Coach Curran day for me, and it will be the rest of my life,” he added. “I’m going to miss him. He was everything to me, and to my mom, my family. He treated everyone with respect. He taught me a lot of things.”

Louisville coach Rick Pitino huddled his players after their morning shootaround and informed them of Curran’s death, then led the team in a prayer.

“Russ had a heavy heart tonight,” said Pitino, who also called Curran a good friend. “I just told Russ we have to play this tournament and the NCAAs for Coach Curran.”

No. 4 Louisville has won eight straight games _ seven by at least 14 points.

After the game, the Cardinals received a surprise visit from President Bill Clinton. A longtime basketball fan, he and Pitino have been friendly since Pitino was at Kentucky and introduced Clinton on campus.

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