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Men’s Basketball: Irish need to stay disciplined

Pat Leonard | Thursday, February 16, 2006

Good wins bring smiles and celebration. Sloppy wins on the cusp of an imposing schedule do not. And the tone of the Notre Dame players and coaches following a 63-55 victory over South Florida Wednesday reflected that attitude – we’re glad we won. We needed to win. Let’s move on.

It’s the unfortunate reality for a Big East team currently buried in the conference standings.

“Our postseason life is on the line every day, not [just] every game,” Irish coach Mike Brey said after Wednesday’s win. “… We’ve got our sense of urgency every day.”

Notre Dame remains No. 14 in the 16-team Big East despite its win over the Bulls. St. John’s and Rutgers each hold 4-8 conference records – one ahead of the Irish – after the Johnnies’ 54-51 win over the Scarlet Knights Wednesday. Louisville (4-7) and Providence (4-7) are also one game up on Notre Dame, despite the Friars’ 85-77 loss to Pittsburgh Wednesday.

Common belief holds that three positions remain for these programs and possibly DePaul (2-9) to qualify for the 12-team Big East Tournament in March.

At this point, then, an Irish win is automatically a positive – they must win out simply to finish .500. But Wednesday’s game should not sit well with this team. Not that they need to dwell upon the game’s downside. Notre Dame has no time to look back with Seton Hall (Saturday), Connecticut (Tuesday) and Marquette (Feb. 25) waiting in the wings.

Still, it should unnerve Brey that his team committed more turnovers (12) than it dished assists (11) against a winless (in Big East play) South Florida team. It should bother him that shooting guard Colin Falls and small forward Russell Carter continued to fire from the outside early Wednesday, and miss, while forwards Torin Francis and Rick Cornett were calling “ball” with palms open.

It was a failure to stay true to the formula that amassed a 27-point blowout of Rutgers just one week ago.

Notre Dame showed no discipline Wednesday.

Granted, the team had a week off. The rust that compiles with rest can slow a squad down as it swings back into the normal schedule. But even one of Notre Dame’s co-captains, point guard Chris Quinn, was concerned with the sluggish start following the seven-day break.

“You would think [a week off] would help us, give us a little extra burst,” Quinn said. “But we weren’t knocking down shots at the beginning. Luckily, we were pretty good on the defensive end and were able to take a lead into halftime.”

And luckily, they were playing South Florida. Seton Hall and Connecticut will beat Notre Dame badly if the Irish play them like they did the Bulls. Brey practically said it himself post-game.

“We’re gonna have to be a lot tougher to play Seton Hall,” Brey said, “or they’ll beat us up.”

Give the Notre Dame coaches and players credit. They adjusted to a much different and, admittedly, quite deceptive South Florida team. The Irish have not been blown out this season. They have been in every game. They have won the last two – must-wins – with the intention of snagging a final spot for the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. And Wednesday’s win was one more step toward that goal.

But it is equally as important that the team learn from this one.

Notre Dame needs to score points down low early, shoot free throws better and continue its defensive improvement. More importantly, Notre Dame must play every game controlled, yet passionate, like it needs the win desperately – even against the South Floridas and DePauls of the league.

Otherwise, if the Irish do not show that “sense of urgency” Brey proclaims, Saturday at Continental Airlines Arena will be quite a wake-up call.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Pat Leonard at pleonard@nd.edu