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Irish playing a new, winning style

Matt Lozar | Thursday, December 9, 2004

BLOOMINGTON — The old Mike Brey-coached basketball teams would have gotten into a track meet with Indiana Wednesday night.

The Hoosiers came into the game ready to run after hoisting up 62 3-point attempts in their last two games. They were ready to do the same thing against the Irish.

But this Notre Dame team is different.

It didn’t get into a track meet.

It slowed the game down with a 1-2-2 three-quarter court press and then sat in its 2-3 zone to force Indiana into its struggling offensive sets and 20 3-point attempts.

It emphasized ball movement and dared Indiana to stop its inside game as the Hoosiers guards aggressively defended the Irish backcourt.

The final score was 55-45. The Browns and the Bengals scored more in a NFL game two weeks ago.

That’s not Mike Brey basketball.

That is becoming the new style of Irish basketball.

“We haven’t hit our offensive stride, but we will. I think we’re still learning,” Brey said. “It’s nice to learn how to play with this group winning, instead of losing by one.”

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the transition of this team from scoring 80 points a night to buckling down on defense hasn’t happened overnight. Brey said his team hasn’t hit its offensive stride yet, and he’s right — this team will score more than 60 points a game by the end of the season.

Right now, it’s struggling to find its offensive rhythm.

Despite that, it’s doing the most important thing — winning.

“That’s the most important thing is that we’re winning games. However we get it done, we get it done,” Jordan Cornette said. “It’s been quite sometime you heard that Notre Dame’s defense is winning some games. That says something about this squad’s heart and we play with a lot of heart.”

Chris Thomas still doesn’t look back from his offseason knee injury, shooting only 31 percent so far. He’s adjusting to his redefined role where this team doesn’t need him to score 20 a night. He needs to distribute the ball and hit the big shots like he did Wednesday.

Why is this team finally playing like this?

Because it’s playing like it’s old — a challenge set out by Brey after saying his team was young all last year.

Playing old means not hiding from the fact that Notre Dame hadn’t won in Bloomington since 1973, as was written in the Irish locker room this week. This team was ready from the time it let one slip away in Ann Arbor to go to intimidating Assembly Hall and do something a lot of Notre Dame teams in the past couldn’t do.

It means Thomas and Chris Quinn holding late-night shooting session to atone for their disappointing 3-for-24 performance at Michigan Saturday. Not only was the team frothing at the mouth to play another Big Ten opponent, but the backcourt wanted to show the country the preseason hype wasn’t just that.

It means changing your style of play so during March just getting your name called on Selection Sunday isn’t the highlight of the month. This team doesn’t just want to play on the first or second weekend, it wants to play on the third.

Defense first, then offense? It just doesn’t sound right.

Welcome to the new style of Notre Dame basketball.