Big East comes down to Bearcats and Cardinals
New York, NY (Sports Network) - In a surprise matchup, the seventh-seeded Louisville Cardinals will take on the fourth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats tonight with the Big East Conference Tournament Championship on the line.
Louisville has rebounded nicely after losing its last two games of the regular season by winning three straight tournament games to reach the championship. After skating by Seton Hall 61-55, it was very impressive in wins against nationally-ranked foes Marquette and Notre Dame, winning its quarterfinal and semifinal games by a combined 27 points. The Cardinals have built an impressive tournament resume for themselves as they sit with a 25-9 overall record. They have now reached the tournament championship for the second year in a row.
Cincinnati has had a similarly successful season as it owns a 24-9 overall record and with the fourth-seed in the tournament, it earned a double-bye to the quarterfinal round, where it squeaked by Georgetown 72-70. The Bearcats then experienced perhaps their best win of the year when they knocked off top- seeded and No. 2 ranked Syracuse in the semifinals, 71-68. UC attempts to win its first ever Big East Tournament title, as it has never even made the championship game until now.
Louisville leads the all-time series over Cincinnati, 53-42, but the Bearcats have won each of the last three encounters, including the lone meeting this year, 60-56 in Cincinnati on Feb. 23.
Louisville cruised in its semifinal game against Notre Dame, getting out to a 16-point halftime lead and never looking back. It shot lights-out from the floor, draining 56.0 percent, while holding the potent Irish three-point shooting attack to just 2-of-17 from long range. Gorgui Dieng paced the Cardinals in the triumph with 16 points on a perfect 8-of-8 from the field. Peyton Siva nearly tallied a triple double with 13 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds, while Kyle Kuric was also effective with 12 points. UofL has an above average offense by Big East standards, scoring 69.4 ppg, and while it doesn't have any superstars, it benefits from having six players score at least 8.9 ppg, with Kuric (13.2 ppg) and Russ Smith (11.9 ppg) being the catalysts. The Cardinals also have a very stout defense, ranking first in the conference in field goal percentage defense at 37.9 percent.
After getting out to a shocking 17-point lead against the nation's number-two ranked team, Cincinnati nearly coughed it all up in the second half as Syracuse mounted a comeback, but it in the end Cincy was able to hold on for the three-point victory. A balanced scoring attack was paced by a pair of 18- point performances from Sean Kilpatrick and Yancy Gates, while Cashmere Wright tallied 11 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. The Bearcats have nearly an identical makeup as Louisville, ranking just below it in scoring (69.2 ppg) while posting mirror-image scoring margins of +7.7. The Bearcats have been reliant on the three-point shot, draining a league-best 240 three-pointers at a 34.5 percent clip. Kilpatrick is the squad's leading scorer, putting up 14.5 ppg, while Gates records 12.3 ppg and ranks third in the Big East in rebounding (9.3 ppg). Rounding out the balanced attack is Dion Dixon (13.55) and Wright (10.7 ppg, 4.5 apg).
03/10 10:50:21 ET