The following is tonight’s game preview from ESPN U’s website…
Louisville didn’t entirely have an easy time reaching the Big East Conference tournament championship game. It was nothing, however, compared to what Syracuse endured to get there.
After needing only one overtime to win their semifinal contest, the No. 18 Orange hope they have enough left to pull off one last upset as they face the fifth-ranked and top-seeded Cardinals in Saturday night’s final at Madison Square Garden.
Less than 24 hours after sixth-seeded Syracuse (26-8) beat No. 3 Connecticut 127-117 in an historic six-overtime quarterfinal thriller, the Orange went an extra five minutes to oust seventh-seeded West Virginia 74-69 on Friday.
Shunning fatigue and playing with confidence, Syracuse will try for its eighth straight victory and third Big East tournament title in five years.
“You can’t give these players enough credit for what they’ve done in New York this week,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose team has played 155 minutes of basketball in three days. “It’s going to be tough. We have our work cut us for us (Saturday) but we’ll come ready to play.”
Winning four games in four days wouldn’t be unheard for Syracuse, which beat Cincinnati, No. 1 UConn, No. 23 Georgetown and No. 15 Pittsburgh to win the 2006 tournament championship.
Regular-season champion Louisville (27-5), though, is trying for its 10th straight win and first Big East tournament title after rallying to beat 10th-ranked and fourth-seeded Villanova 69-55 on Friday.
The Cardinals have won three in a row over the Orange, including a 67-57 victory at the Carrier Dome on Jan. 25.
While Syracuse is making its 14th championship game appearance, this will be Louisville’s first since joining the Big East in 2005-06. The Cardinals had only one Big East tournament win heading into this season’s event.
“In the past couple years, we haven’t had a lot of success in the Garden,” said Louisville’s Jerry Smith, who had 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting Friday. “For us to get to the championship of the Big East tournament, that’s saying a lot for us and what we’ve overcome.”
With a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament still on the line, the Cardinals used second-half runs of 17-2 and 10-0 against Villanova to improve to 6-1 over Top 25 opponents.
“The good thing about these guys is when you say something, when they know you’re right, they step up and admit what they were doing is wrong — and they stepped up and played great team basketball,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, whose team is shooting 50.1 percent over its last nine games.
Clark had 16 points and 13 rebounds while Williams added 15 and nine boards against Syracuse in a game where each team shot below 38 percent from the field and 26 percent from 3-point range.
The 6-foot-9 Clark had 24 points and 10 rebounds in Louisville’s 73-55 quarterfinal win over Providence on Thursday.
Syracuse’s Eric Devendorf had 20 points in the last meeting with Louisville and added 23 — one more than he had in 61 minutes against Connecticut — versus West Virginia.
Jonny Flynn, who played all 45 minutes Friday after logging 67 of a possible 70 against UConn, added 15 points and nine assists for the Orange after posting 34 and 11 assists in Thursday’s quarterfinal. The sophomore point guard, who had 12 on just 3-for-12 shooting against Louisville, is averaging 17.7 points on the season and 23.0 in his last four games.
Syracuse is 6-6 versus ranked opponents.