LOUISVILLE — It looked like Louisville might have a breather against Notre Dame on Wednesday night, as the Irish were playing without All-American Luke Harangody, who was out with a bruised knee.
But the short-handed Irish came in and fought U of L blow for blow for 50 minutes before finally succumbing 91-89 in a double-overtime instant classic in Freedom Hall.
In addition to playing without Harangody, Notre Dame saw its other four post players (Tyrone Nash, Jack Cooley, Carleton Scott and Mike Broghammer) foul out.
U of L Coach Rick Pitino wasn't surprised that his team, fresh off a tooth-and-nail win at No. 2 Syracuse on Sunday, had to grind one out. Last year, an Irish team that didn't make the NCAA Tournament blasted a Louisville squad that would earn the No. 1 overall seed in the tourney by 33 points.
"In this league, there's always a team you have great difficulty with, and Notre Dame is our team," Pitino said. "They're a great offensive team, a team that's a nightmare to guard. Going in, I knew we'd have a difficult time winning this game with or without Harangody."
Without Harangody's big body in the middle, Samardo Samuels had a field day, scoring a career-high 36 points on 10-for-19 shooting from the floor and 16-for-19 from the line. Samuels also was responsible for fouling out the four Notre Dame pivot men.
The Cards went to Samuels just about every time down the floor in the second half and two overtimes, and the 6-foot-9, 260-pound sophomore delivered.
He was 8-for-8 from the line in the second overtime, including a go-ahead pair with 1:11 left. Pitino said Samuels, who played 45 minutes, was "totally gassed" at the end of the game.
"He worked his tail off," Pitino said. "We weren't going to stop; everything we were running was going straight to him. It had to be his night. He was exhausted. But he was a warrior tonight."
Pitino was also highly complimentary of sophomore forward Jared Swopshire, who scored 12 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had three blocks in 38 minutes.
"Jared Swopshire has grown up in a hurry," Pitino said. "I'm real pleased with him."
The game included 17 ties and 21 lead changes. Louisville led 38-37 at halftime, but neither team led by more than three in the second half.
Notre Dame would have won in regulation had it hit free throws down the stretch, as Tory Jackson and Ben Hansbrough each missed a pair in the final four minutes. Still, the Irish took a 65-64 lead on a straightaway three by Scott at the 3:08 mark, and a rebound basket by Broghammer, a little-used reserve who had played in only 11 games, made it 67-64 with 1:32 left.
Preston Knowles hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 67 with 28.6 seconds left, and Broghammer's wide-open shot from 5 feet rolled off the rim at the end of regulation.
The Irish scored the first seven points of overtime, but Louisville stormed back thanks to Reginald Delk's four-point play that trimmed the deficit to 74-71 with 3:11 left. Jerry Smith's two free throws with 1:20 to play reclaimed the lead for the Cards, 77-76.
Tim Abromaitis got a wide-open look off a pick-and-roll and drained a three to put the Irish back up 79-77, but Samuels tied it with a pair of free throws with 39 seconds left.
Samuels blocked Hansbrough's shot in the lane with four seconds left to force overtime No. 2.
Abromaitis, who led the Irish with 29 points, tried to penetrate the lane in the closing seconds but was forced to the baseline and couldn't get off a shot before time ran out.
Jackson played the entire 50 minutes and finished with 19 points and seven assists, while Hansbrough had 21 points and eight rebounds.
"I don't think I've ever been prouder of a basketball team," Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey said.
U of L (17-9, 8-5) has five games left, and the Cards might still have work to do to solidify an NCAA Tournament berth.
"Well, it was four out of six (we needed to win); now it's three out of five," Pitino said. "We just have to keep continuing."