7:00 PM ET, February 12, 2009
Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, South Bend, Indiana
Louisville bounced back from its first loss since December in its latest game, coming from behind in the second half to remain one of the country's hottest teams.Already mired in a slump when it last took the court, Notre Dame may have hit rock bottom.The fifth-ranked Cardinals will look for their 11th win in 12 games on Thursday when they head to South Bend to face the Fighting Irish, whose loss to Louisville a month ago has set off a seven-game losing streak.Early on, the Cardinals (18-4, 9-1 Big East) didn't look much like the team that was ranked third in the preseason Top 25, losing three games to unranked opponents before conference play got under way.Once coach Rick Pitino's team kicked off its Big East slate, though, it looked very much like a national championship contender. After closing its non-conference schedule with a victory, Louisville reeled off wins in its first eight league games, including one against then-No. 1 Pittsburgh on Jan. 17.That streak ended with a 68-51 loss to top-ranked Connecticut on Feb. 2 when it shot just 34.4 percent, and that cold shooting carried over into the first half the Cardinals' game Sunday at St. John's. After trailing 22-19 at halftime, they rallied behind 19 of Jerry Smith's season-high 21 points to win 60-47."It was our defensive intensity that turned things around," said Smith, who came off the bench for just the second time this season after going scoreless in 20 minutes against UConn. "I wasn't looking for shots but when the opportunity came I took it."Smith's performance was even more crucial considering what happened to two of Louisville's leading scorers.Terrence Williams, tied with Earl Clark for the team lead with 13.0 points per game, was 0-for-7 from the field while playing with a bruised right wrist. Freshman center Samardo Samuels, meanwhile, had nine first-half points before receiving an elbow that knocked out two of his teeth and kept him out of the second half."We had just about everything that could go wrong for us from a physical standpoint, go wrong," Pitino said. "Then our guys just found a way to win against a team that played really hard, which they always do. I'm very pleased with the victory, with a lot of adversity our guys reacted in a very positive way."Both Williams and Samuels are expected to play Thursday.That's bad news for the Irish (12-10, 3-7), who were victimized by both players at Louisville on Jan. 12. Notre Dame came back from a halftime deficit to force overtime, but was outscored 16-2 in the extra session in an 87-73 loss. Williams had 24 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists while Samuels finished with 18 points and four blocks.The Irish haven't won since then, and with a loss Thursday would have their first eight-game losing streak within a season since 1965-66."We're searching for a win," coach Mike Brey said. "We can't feel sorry for ourselves. This is the biggest challenge in the history of the program, but I think our kids will respond."The seventh loss during their skid was the ugliest yet. Notre Dame's defense was virtually non-existent Saturday at then-No. 15 UCLA, letting the Bruins shoot 56.7 percent and forcing only six turnovers in an 89-63 loss.Notre Dame, ranked No. 9 coming into the season, is allowing 80.5 points per game in conference play, the seventh-worst average in the country.Luke Harangody, the Big East's leading scorer (24.3 points per game), had a season-low five points Saturday.Harangody had 28 points in the loss to the Cardinals last month, and scored a career-high 40 in a 90-85 loss at Louisville on Feb. 28.
|Avg Points Allowed||61.6||71.2|