It's about to get a lot tougher for Notre Dame and Louisville.
Only one will get the chance to play for a championship, and the Fighting Irish have never had that opportunity before.A night after both teams cruised into the semifinals, fourth-ranked Notre Dame and the No. 14 Cardinals meet in the Big East tournament for the first time with a berth in the title game at stake Friday night at Madison Square Garden.The Fighting Irish (26-5) joined the Big East in 1996, but have never reached the tournament's championship game. They reached this stage last year, but lost 53-51 to eventual champion West Virginia.This time, coach Mike Brey has Notre Dame rolling, winning 12 of 13 after dominating No. 25 Cincinnati in an 89-51 win Thursday in the most lopsided quarterfinal in Big East history."When you have a performance like that, on this stage, that's something I'm really proud of," said Brey, the conference coach of the year. "Hopefully it'll give us momentum to keep playing well in New York."Louisville (24-8) has put together its own strong stretch with five victories in six games. The Cardinals had little trouble dispatching Marquette in an 81-56 rout Thursday, setting up a potential return to the Big East tournament's title game for the first time since winning it two years ago.Coach Rick Pitino had little doubt his team would get that chance again."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."The last one certainly was, as the Irish went on to win 89-79 in overtime at home Feb. 9. The teams needed the extra period to determine the winner for the fourth time in seven meetings since the Cardinals joined the Big East for the 2005-06 season.Notre Dame is entering this matchup coming off a 56.1 percent effort from the floor while hitting 9 of 19 from beyond the arc. The Irish are shooting 47.5 percent form 3-point range during a five-game winning streak.Ben Hansbrough is a big part of that, ranking third in the conference with 18.7 points per game. The senior guard is connecting on 68.3 percent of his field goals -- 19 of 31 3s -- to average 25.4 points and 5.4 assists during that five-game stretch.The Big East Player of the Year showed few signs of slowing down Thursday, making 8 of 11 shots to finish with 23 points and six assists.Hansbrough had 25 points in the latest meeting with the Cardinals, while forward Tim Abromaitis had 23 after scoring 29 in a 91-89 double-overtime loss at Louisville on Feb. 17, 2010.The Cardinals have played stifling defense the last five games, holding opponents to 33.6 percent from the field and 20.2 from beyond the arc. They smothered the Golden Eagles, who made 29.8 percent from the field and missed 12 of 15 from long range.Louisville guard Mike Marra made six of his own 3s Thursday, and scored 22 points to more than triple his season average of 6.8.Preston Knowles is looking for an improved effort after he was limited to 13 points on 5 of 17 shooting against Notre Dame last month. The senior guard is averaging 8.0 points the last four meetings.The winner will face either No. 11 Syracuse or 21st-ranked Connecticut for the tournament championship Saturday night.