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Notre Dame falls in last chance at Big East final

PeytSivLouisville gets solid bump from PConnaughtdrive basket during first half Friday night. | Frank FranklII~AP

Peyton Siva of Louisville gets a solid bump from Pat Connaughton on a drive to the basket during the first half Friday night. | Frank Franklin II~AP

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Updated: April 17, 2013 6:14AM

NEW YORK — Defense wins championships, a formula Louisville has perfected since its run to the Final Four last season that began last year in the Big East tournament. The No. 4 Cardinals look poised for a repeat.

They used defense to trigger a late surge against Notre Dame on Friday at Madison Square Garden for a 69-57 victory. Louisville will play Syracuse for the last championship in the “old’’ Big East.

Steals by senior star Peyton Siva (12 points, six assists) and senior Stephan Van Treese in the closing six minutes broke open what had been a close game.

Siva’s steal and layup, Van Treese’s theft a moment later, then Siva’s rebound of a Notre Dame miss led to an 11-point lead for Louisville (28-5). The Irish never got closer than seven after that.

“We weren’t very good in the first half, but a lot of that was Louisville’s defense,’’ Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “They imposed their will on us too much. But I’m very proud of our group. We found another gear here at the right time with what’s coming next week [the NCAA Tournament.]’’

Louisville guard Russ Smith led all scorers with 20 points. Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant each had 14 for the Irish (25-9).

“I’m very disappointed we never got to Saturday,’’ Brey said of failing to reach a Big East tournament final after four consecutive trips to the semifinal round. “A little unfinished business, but we’ll get over it.’’

Louisville, one of the teams remaining in the old conference next season, could secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament should it defeat Syracuse, which thrilled the New York crowd with a 58-55 overtime victory over No. 1 seed Georgetown in the first semifinal.

“We’re very excited to be in another final game, especially in the final tournament of the Big East,’’ Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.

“Syracuse is where we were a year ago [having lost games entering the conference tournament], but now they’re on fire. We know we’re playing a road game, but we’re excited to be in it.’’

Louisville led 32-25 at the half, but the final 20 minutes sealed the outcome. The Cardinals held the Irish to 32 percent shooting in the second half, including 4-for-14 from three-point range.

Brey said the Irish gained a new confidence from the tournament.

“We were mature about stuff,’’ he said. “We didn’t hang our head as much on mistakes, and tonight we made a lot of them. I said [Thursday] it felt like you were coaching men, and I hope we’ve learned that.’’

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