NEW YORK (AP) — Rick Pitino was worried about how his Louisville team would react to the dreaded double-bye in the Big East tournament. Turned out he could have saved all that concern.
The third-seeded and 14th-ranked Cardinals used an impressive 3-point effort and some solid defense to beat 11th-seeded Marquette 81-56 on Thursday night in the quarterfinals.
This is third year the top four seeds have been given double-byes into the quarterfinals, and with Syracuse and Notre Dame also winning Thursday, the all-time record for the higher seeds stands even at 6-6.
The other semifinal will have fourth-seeded Syracuse against Connecticut, which beat top-seeded Pittsburgh on Thursday.
“We played great defense tonight and highly, highly intelligent offense tonight, sharing the ball … real proud of the guys,” Pitino said. “I worry about the double-bye sometimes, not being prepared, but our guys have been terrific. I just like to play a little bit rather than sit. We didn’t come until Wednesday night. We treated it like a regular road game.”
Mike Marra hit six 3-pointers and had 22 points to lead Louisville (24-8), which will play second-seeded Notre Dame on Friday night in the semifinals. The fourth-ranked Fighting Irish (26-5) beat Cincinnati 89-51 in the quarterfinals.
Marra was 6 of 10 from 3-point range and led Louisville’s 13-for-31 effort from behind the arc (41.9 percent) as the Cardinals won their fifth in six games and moved on to the Big East semis for the third time. They won their only Big East tournament title in 2009.
“I told them before the game that not since 1996 did I walk into a place and feel as confident as I did walking in here. In 1996, I had a reason with eight pros,” he said, referring to his national championship team at Kentucky. “That’s a great feeling knowing your team is going to bring it. It will be two good passing teams. It should be an interesting matchup.”
Jimmy Butler had 14 points for Marquette (20-14), which beat Providence in the opening round and sixth-seeded West Virginia in the second round to reach the quarterfinals. The Golden Eagles were looking for their third semifinal appearance.
The three games in as many days seemed to take its toll on Marquette.
“I don’t know,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said of the three-game stretch in 72 hours. “I think that is hard to quantify, easy to justify, hard to quantify. Louisville was great. Any time a team scores 59 percent of its points on 3s it’s going to be a long night. … Saying they beat us because we didn’t have legs is a soft answer and we don’t want to leave here with a soft response.”
Louisville, which entered the game fourth in the conference in 3-point shooting, went 6 of 16 from beyond the arc in the first half with Marra making 3 of 7.
“He made a huge difference,” Louisville guard Preston Knowles said of Marra. “We have a lot of great shooters on this team. It’s good to see Mike come in and shoot with confidence, especially since he’s been in a little slump. Mike had the hot hand tonight and I’m glad he had it.”
The Cardinals started the second half by asserting themselves inside.
Six-foot-9 junior center Terrence Jennings scored the Cardinals’ first three field goals of the second half, the first two on dunks off passes from Marra and Peyton Siva.
Marra than hit three consecutive 3s and Knowles added another to give Louisville a 54-39 lead with 12:26 to play.
The Golden Eagles scored the next five points but Louisville pulled away again, this run started by a 3-pointer from Chris Smith. The Cardinals led by as many as 27 points.
Knowles had 15 points for Louisville and Jennings finished with 12, all in the second half.
Darius Johnson-Odom added 13 points for Marquette, which shot 29.8 percent (17 for 57), including going 3 of 15 from long range.
Marquette came in with many people saying it had to earn its way into the NCAA field of 68 as the 11th team from the Big East.
“We arrived here not knowing conclusively what we had to do,” Williams said. “We handled it and proved things to people. What these kids have been through the last 23 days emotionally and physically has been a roller coaster and they answered the bell. We will be one of 37 at-large teams that will hear their name called on Sunday.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)