MEN’S BASKETBALL:Trouble’s Bruin
Matt Lozar | Monday, February 28, 2005
Since last season’s disappointing NIT appearance, Mike Brey and his team have emphasized defense.
It let them fatten up on the non-conference cupcakes during the early-season shooting woes. It kept them in games throughout the rugged Big East schedule. It put them in position to make a run at the NCAA tournament.
Now it’s failing them at the wrong time of the season.
Getting blown out on its home court from the opening tip, Notre Dame never held a lead and fell behind by as many as 20 points in the second half in UCLA’s 75-65 win at the Joyce Center Sunday afternoon.
“We have to concentrate on the defensive end. We did that early in the season when we weren’t shooting well,” Chris Quinn said. “We came out flat, especially on the defensive end. To their credit, they moved the ball and got open looks.”
At Connecticut, the Irish (16-9) played their worst defensive game of the season – giving up a season-high 88 points to the Huskies. On Sunday, the Irish let the Bruins (16-9) shoot the lights out as UCLA made 14-of-23 3-pointers.
The Bruins were able to shoot such a high percentage from behind the arc by getting into a comfortable offensive flow that saw their outside shooters get wide-open looks coming off screens.
“Fourteen 3-point shots kind of staggers you, that’s not something they’ve been doing, but I give them credit,” Brey said. “I thought defensively, I was disappointed we weren’t guarding the ball screen and guarding shooters off stagger screens.
“We obviously have to get better before we play Rutgers. We talked about that, being better defensively, and we’ve been pretty good defensively.
“I can’t answer that right now.”
Meanwhile, the Irish offensive flow never got going as the Bruins built a 15-point halftime lead – the largest halftime deficit the Irish have faced this season. Notre Dame’s outside shooters had problems getting open looks in the first half en route to shooting 2-of-11 on 3-pointers during the first 20 minutes.
The Bruins extended that lead to a high-water mark of 59-39 with 9 minutes, 59 seconds remaining on a 3-pointer from Brian Morrison. The Irish implemented a full-court press after that and tried to get back into the game. The press forced some steals, but the Irish were never able to get closer than eight.
The Bruins had six players in double figures, led by Arron Afflalo’s 17 points. UCLA forward Dijon Thompson struggled with his shot but ended up with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Chris Quinn led the Irish with 17 points, while Chris Thomas and Torin Francis were the only other Irish players to end up in double figures.
Brey went deep into his bench playing nine, with eight seeing at least 10 minutes of playing time.
u Thomas became the third player in college basketball history to accumulate 2,000 points and 800 assists in his career. His 800th assist came on a Francis dunk in the second half.
“I really don’t have any thoughts about it. It is what it is. It’s something to be proud of, more proud of if you get the win,” Thomas said. “I think it’s a good achievement. I don’t know if it’s a milestone at point guard to look to get to.
“I’m in the company of two other great guards, and it’s an honor to be up there with them.”
Syracuse alum Sherman Douglas and Oregon State alum Gary Payton are the other two players to accomplish the feat.
u Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis gave a halftime speech during Sunday’s game geared toward the Irish student body. It was the first time Weis publicly talked to the students.
“This isn’t about a bunch of egomaniacs anymore,” Weis said. “This is about being on the same team, and that’s what we’re trying to start here.”
Sunday was “Junior Day” for the football program as Weis said 85 juniors came to South Bend.