March 8, 2012
Since losing in its first appearance in the BIG EAST tournament, Marquette has advanced every time but has yet to play for the title.
That could change this season with Jae Crowder being named the program's first BIG EAST player of the year.
The 6-foot-6 swingman will lead the ninth-ranked Golden Eagles into Thursday night's BIG EAST quarterfinal matchup against a Louisville team that knocked them out of the tournament in this round a year ago.
Crowder averaged 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds to help Marquette (25-6) finish second in the conference, as he beat out West Virginia's Kevin Jones for player-of-the-year honors. The Golden Eagles have won 13 of 15 games.
"I'm on any cloud number you want," Crowder said. "I'm in the atmosphere right now, and the sky's the limit for us as a team. We're in a great position right now."
Crowder was second on the team in scoring to fellow senior Darius Johnson-Odom, who averaged 18.3 points and is hopeful of playing three games in New York. Marquette has won its first game in the tournament the previous five years.
"We're trying to focus on winning the BIG EAST championship now," Johnson-Odom said.
Marquette's stars probably have bad memories of last season's 81-56 quarterfinal loss to Louisville (23-9) as they combined to score 23 points on 8-of-23 shooting. The Golden Eagles earned a measure of revenge with a 74-63 home win over the Cardinals on Jan. 16, as Johnson-Odom and Crowder combined for 33 points.
"Marquette is a tough team," Louisville guard Peyton Siva said. "We played them tough at their place until the end."
Louisville was without injured top scorer Kyle Kuric for the first matchup. Kuric is back now but the Cardinals are in a major offensive slump, shooting 35.7 percent over a 2-3 stretch.
A solid defensive effort in which Louisville limited Seton Hall to 32.7 percent shooting was the key to Wednesday's 61-55 victory. The Cardinals took a one-point lead into halftime and shot 55.0 percent over the final 20 minutes.
"We're not the greatest offensive team, but we played really good defense. We're one of the top defensive teams in the country," coach Rick Pitino said. "We had 39 deflections tonight, which is very, very high."
Siva had 14 points and six steals while Gorgui Dieng added six points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.
"It starts with defense with us," Siva said. "As long as we continue to play defense and continue to get steals, then that's when we're at our best."
The 6-foot-11, 235-pound Dieng will face a difficult matchup with the return of 6-8, 290-pound Marquette forward Davante Gardner.
Gardner finished with eight points and eight rebounds in Saturday's 83-69 home win over then-No. 11 Georgetown after missing the previous eight games with a sprained left knee. Gardner had 17 points and six boards in 18 minutes in the first meeting with Louisville.
"I think he's tired of hearing from the doctors and the trainers, and he's probably at the point emotionally where he needs me to holler and scream at him so that he'll progress the rest of the way," coach Buzz Williams said.