Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sweet Home (Win Over) Alabama

Things we have that Alabama doesn't: national exposure, a football coach, and now a better basketball team. A day after the ladies knocked off Purdue, ND's men's team outplayed and outlasted the 5th ranked Crimson Tide 99-85.

The Joyce Center was blacked out. Free t-shirts to inner bowl fans, with bleacher bums encouraged to bring black clothes from home. It must have been a sell-out, although a few season ticket holders didn't show. From tip, a packed student section answered Coach Brey's call for lots of noise. Very few moments passed in the 2nd half when the entire stadium was not standing.

Let's start with the backcourt. Kyle McAlarney was outstanding. He is credited for only 3 assists, but served as the catalyst for an attacking Irish offense. Seeing the whole floor, K-Mac orchastrated strong transitions, running the break when Notre Dame had a numbers advantage. His speed threatened Alabama defenders enough to open him up for four three-pointers, 20 points for the night.

Russell Carter took the responsibility of guarding All-America candidate Ronald Steele to heart. Leading the team with three takeaways, Carter harrassed Steele on defense while scoring 27 on offense. I sternly criticised Russ for poor shot selection earlier in the year. Today's shot selection was no better, but he made everything. Carter shot 6-11 from beyond the arc, broke down 'Bama's 2-3 zone with dribble drives, and scored on a breakaway windmill dunk that was hands-down the highlight of the game. Russell Carter is today's MVP, and looks more and more like a first-team All Big East player. Keep it up.

Colin Falls has also been the butt of some of my criticism. While he made a few mistakes on defense, letting players go backdoor and so forth, Falls is Mike Brey's best friend on the floor. Clearly the vocal leader, he dominated on-court discussions. When he talked, everyone listened. Shooting only 2-6 from downtown, his specialty, Falls took a charge and rarely turned the ball over on offense. Most importantly, he is our best free throw shooter and kept the game from getting close late. Even though Falls fell into foul trouble early, Brey can trust Colin to stay in games to the end, always giving 100%.

Tory Jackson was very, very impressive off the bench today. While guarding one of the best players in the country in Steele, Tory's intensity and hustle led to at least two direct turnovers and several other poor shots. The combined effort of Carter and Jackson held number 22 to thirteen points and three assists. Terrific.

What can you say about Rob Kurz? Playing with heart and through pain, he shut down Jermareo Davidson for the most part and finished with 14 points and 12 boards. Although a bloody nose took him out in the second half, Robby came back wearing a different jersey and played important minutes all night. One thing I would like to see Kurz improve is his inside presence when Notre dame plays a smaller lineup. Without Zeller or Bamm-Bamm in the game, Kurz frequently left the key wide open. While Coach brey understandably wants to have separation for the quick players to work with, Kurz has no business playing at the top of the key when none of the other four players can effectively post-up. Overall, however, a great game for our workhorse down low.

Bamm-Bamm and Zeller did their jobs very well tonight, too. Zeller showed courage standing up to 'Bama's big men when asked to do so. Harangody took a big step in his college career tonight. LH was given extended minutes by Brey and fulfilled expectations, grabbing 7 rebounds. Zeller made all three shots he took and committed very few mental errors. Both young guys showed a ton a hustle, especially Bamm-Bamm on two great breakaways.

A couple of things I wish we could have seen: less fouls and second chance points. Alabama was able to control the offensive rebounds and went to the line far too many times. Altogether, of course, a win over a top five program is more than reason to celebrate. Go Irish!

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