Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Connecticut 84, Notre Dame 78

Notre Dame went five minutes without a field goal through a key period in the second half and it turned a four point lead into a six point loss at Connecticut. The inability of the Irish to knock down important shots in the final minute killed any chance of a comeback. No such thing as a good loss, but plenty positive to take out of the rematch as Luke Harangody looks poised to run away with the conference player of the year award.

The game went back and forth all night, with the Irish holding most of the advantage in the first half. In the second 20 minutes, Notre Dame missed 11 straight shots from the field and wasted three second chances off of offensive rebounds. From 7:44 to 2:33 left, Connecticut went on a 10-2 run and permanently took the advantage. Had missed three point attempts by Ryan Ayers, Kyle McAlarney, and Luke Zeller fallen in the final minute, this could have been a different outcome. Alas, it was not to be.

Tory Jackson was very good game scoring and rebounding, but was just average handling the ball. 13 points, 9 rebounds. 4 assists to 4 turnovers. Overall, a good performance as the sophomore keeps to develop as a scorer. Made two of his four three point attempts, the only Irish player to shoot well from beyond the arc. If he can continue to develop his outside game, he adds a great threat to the Irish attack.

When Kyle McAlarney is cold, the Irish invariably lose. K-Mac could not repeat his 32 point performance from the JACC, scoring only twelve on 4-14 shooting. 2 assists, 4 boards to go along. His 2 for 7 line from beyond the arc was not enough, as the Irish only shot 29% as a team. Knock a couple more of those down and its a tie game.

Zach Hillesland provided his normal night, 4 points/6 rebounds/4 assists. I would love to see Zach get more into the scoring (indeed, I trashed Ayers a lot for the same fact), but when 48 shots are taken by your three high scorers, there are not a lot of points to go around. Gave his normal effort over 21 minutes...

Which is more than one could say about Rob Kurz. The lone senior disappeared for long portions of the contest. Season lows for points and rebounds. In similarly important contests against Kansas St., Georgetown, and Marquette at home, Kurz has been extremely quiet. Need to see more from the big guy when the team is in a big game like that.

But Luke Harangody sure put on a show. Hasheem Thabeet embarrassed Bamm-Bamm in their last meeting, using his height to take away the sophomore's jump hook. Harangody scored in all sorts of ways tonight, completely outclassing the Connecticut big man all night. 32 points, 16 rebounds in what will undoubtedly gain him consideration for a third straight Power Poll Player of the Week award. Picked up four fouls, the last in the final minute, but was able to stay on the floor for nearly the entire game. Congrats to him for really proving himself against a seven footer tonight.

Off the bench, both Ryan Ayers and Luke Zeller failed to provide the outside shooting that they specialize in. 2-6 overall for Ayers, 2-8 for Zeller. When your games center around putting the ball in the basket from long range, we need a better output than that. With McAlarney pretty quiet, either one of the bench players could have really picked up the team tonight. Jonathan Peoples had another quiet night. Some see flashes of him playing and really think he could be a special talent in the future. Time will tell, but right now he looks like no more than a minute-eater for Jackson and McAlarney.

A very good game for both teams. It is encouraging to see both squads playing at a national-quality level. Six point wins at home for each in the two game series shows how close the two teams are in talent. Connecticut is one of the hottest teams in the nation right now, but Notre Dame was able to stay in contention all the way at Gampel Pavilion. No small feat.

Connecticut made two more shots than the Irish overall. ND held the rebounding edge by two. The Irish were unable to get to the line often, a stat that has really kept them afloat in close contests against Marquette and Providence. Not a lot of turnovers for either side, 8 for UCONN and 12 for ND. 3 point shooting really helped the Huskies with 40% compared to 7-24 for the Irish.

A.J. Price had a very nice night with 26. Austrie and Adrien provided 14 and 13. 10 off the bench for Wiggins. Would have been nice to see him still suspended. Wiggins grabbed 9 rebounds, same with Adrien. Hasheem Thabeet was not the same offensive beast as against Georgia Tech. 4 points, 10 rebounds. Six blocked shots as well, an average night of work for the big Tanzanian.

Notre Dame has a game at Rutgers on Sunday. A big win there would be great to get the team back on track. Still always tough to pull one out at the RAC. Home contests against Pittsburgh and Syracuse give the Irish the chance to all but lock up a top 4 finish next week.

Losses always sting a bit, this one no less than usual. Still a gutsy performance for Notre Dame and they will need to bounce back well to keep the good juices from out five game winning streak going.


Anonymous said...

Looks like we are turning into the irish of old with losing close games on the road. I know we have pulled a few out at home (Marquete) but seems like we have no one to close the game out. What do you think?

BlackandGreen said...

I wouldn't be too quick to judge after one performance. This was the closest road game so far, so not a whole lot to compare against this year. Wins at home against Providence and Marquette make you feel pretty good about winning the close ones.

What really killed the Irish today and was a key factor in comebacks for the Friars and Golden Eagles was the scoring drought in the second half. You can't give a team like Connecticut five minutes to catch up and expect to win. That means better shot selection and handling the ball well. Sometimes it just doesn't break your way and a cold streak will come up at the worst possible time.

Some teams have a penetrator at guard who can close out a game for them. Harangody is the go-to guy in the paint and needs to get touches down the stretch. Any possession without Harangody as the #1 priority is wasted in situations like that.

Overall, I would have to wait to see another bad performance closing a game out on the road to call it more than just a tough loss. Obviously two years ago was the prime example of end of game futility, but I like how this team has handled the pressure lately.

Craig said...

We really need to work at getting better at getting good shots off a slow-down offense late in the game. We're fine at burning the clock, but not so fine at getting the dagger at the end of the shot clock.

Anonymous said...

We should have won this game. We outplayed them in every way - on the road. In the last three minutes I think there were a few to many 'chucks'... shots that didn't need to be taken and with and extra pass could have resulted in a an easy deuce in the lane, with the potential of a foul.

While a big time defender of Brey, this is one of those big differences. You're down 4-5 on the road. Drive. Dish. Set something for an old time three. Brey plays hands off - let the guys shoot from three if they think they feel it. So we chucked and missed and the clock kept ticking.

It was a great game to watch. I don't think either is better. U Conn has a damn easy schedule, while ND still has Pitt & Syracuse at home and Louisville on the road. It'll be interesting to see how this pans out.

Too bad the bench didn't show up tonight. It would have been the difference.

BlackandGreen said...

Good points about the half court offense late in games. The system is built to be free flowing and just set up open looks for confident shooters. It has worked pretty well for te first 30-35 minutes of most of our games. The last 5-10 minutes, the offense has gotten out of synch when they slow down the tempo.

I'll rank Connecticut ahead of the Irish this week barring an unforseen loss for either team, but both match up very evenly. If we could have had the McAlarney from the first game and the Harangody from the second, there's no team we can't beat in this conference.

Golden Monkey said...

I still can't understand why Hillesland doesn't log more minutes? His ability to handle the ball, rebound and distribute gives us so much more than Ayers? It seems to me Brey looks for someone that stands around looking for a chance to shoot the three? Kurz 2 pts, 3 reb in 21 minutes? Is he still feeling the effects of the flu? Thank the Lord for Gody, Tory & Mac they are the heart and sole.

Craig said...

My earlier comment about getting better shots was based on the Marquette game and some of the other close games earlier in the year.

I hadn't watched the end of this game when I posted that comment, and now that I have, it doesn't really apply. First of all, even though we only had one field goal during that time period, we had another two "as good as" where a shooting foul was called and both free throws were made. Second, we had a bunch of open looks and couldn't buy a basket. There were only two or three shots that were forced.

BlackandGreen said...

Golden Monkey-
I certainly agree with you on the Hillesland/Ayers situation. We have benefitted from Zach's addition to the starting lineup and I rate him as a better overall player on the court than Ayers. Still, when Ryan knocks down his shots, he can be a real boost to the offense. It's all a matter of making lineups work. As for Kurz, I do think he may still be getting over the flu. We need him healthy for Sunday.

Good points. Sometimes you just get cold at the worst time. Hopefully that means the law of averages will work in our favor next time we need to knock down some big shots.