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February 9, 2013
The center of the hype and hoopla universe will be at Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion Saturday when ESPN's Game Day takes center stage for Louisville's visit to SOuth Bend.
"The circus is coming to town and I've got my cotton candy," Irish coach Mike Brey says.
But UofL ringmaster Rick Pitino doesn't think his team will be affected by all the emotion surrounding the game, although it certainly can't be discounted from Notre Dame's perspective.
"It's a little more emotion, but it doesn't affect us negatively or positively," Pitino says. "I think Game Day adds to the emotion of it. I think (ND) will be very excited, but it doesn't really bother this team. If Notre Dame beats us, it will be because they have better players that night. It's a big challenge, but I think our guys are up to it."
Notre Dame (18-5, 6-4) has a significant homecourt advantage even without ESPN's crew on hand, with a 48-3 record over the last several years, and it's difficult to fathom that either of these teams could play with any more emotion than they usually do.
Five of the last seven games have been decided in overtime and both coaches expect a similarly competitive battle in Saturday's 9 p.m. Big East contest. The No. 11/12 Cardinals (19-4, 7-3) haven't won in South Bend since 1994, when coach Denny Crum's club pulled out an 85-82 overtime victory.
"We've had some really, really tight ballgames, a lot of exciting ones," Pitino says. "And this should be another exciting one. It's going to be a very good basketball game."
"It's a running joke with Rick and me," Brey says. "Before a game one of us usually says, 'How many (OTs)do we want to play tonight? One? Two?' There's just been great games, hard-played games, kids really competing, and I expect it to be that way this time."
The Irish have won three of their last four games, but are only 3-3 in their last six and are coming off a 63-47 loss at Syracuse last Monday in which they shot a season-low 34.6 percent, far below their league-leading .487.
Brey has had to adjust for the loss of one of his best players, 6-8 sixth-year swingman Scott Martin, who has missed the last four games with knee problems. Martin averages 7.9 points and 5.9 rebounds and is shooting a career-best 46.3 percent from 3-point range. His replacement, 6-10 senior Tom Knight, has averaged 8.7 ppg and 5.2 rpg since moving into the starting lineup.
Brey says Martin's status for UofL is "up in the air," and didn't dismiss the possibility that he might play. Notre Dame's top performer is 6-9 senior Jack Cooley, who is averaging 14.8 ppg and 11.3 rpg with 15 double-doubles, which is tied for third nationally.