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Men’s Basketball: Running past the bulls

Joe Meixell | Monday, January 22, 2007

After trading baskets for the majority of the first half, Irish forward Rob Kurz ignited a 21-2 run to close out the opening period and lead No. 20 Notre Dame to a convincing 82-58 victory over South Florida Sunday at the Joyce Center.

Kurz struggled in the team’s previous game at Villanova Wednesday, scoring 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting, but bounced back with a team-high 21 points and 10 rebounds.

He was also 9-of-10 from the line – contributing to Notre Dame’s 81-percent free throw shooting.

“Rob [Kurz] just continues to do dirty work and get loose balls and guard other people’s guys, rotate over and block shots,” Irish coach Mike Brey said in his post-game press conference. “I’m glad he hunted his jump shot. I still think he can hunt it more, but we need him to shoot his shot.

“If it’s a good shot early in the possession he can shoot it.”

With 8:32 left in the first half, Irish guard Tory Jackson found Kurz for an open layup to cut South Florida’s lead to 24-23. From there, the Irish dominated both sides of the ball, developing an offensive rhythm and holding the Bulls to zero field goals for the remainder of the half.

“I thought the bench came in and did a really good job,” Irish guard Colin Falls said. “Guys like Zach [Hillesland] and Jon [Peoples] and Luke [Zeller] and Tory [Jackson] came in and they were all over the floor – and we got a nice run because of it.”

Kurz scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots in that stretch.

Jackson, who finished with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting and five assists, kept numerous possessions alive with productive offensive rebounding and aggressive play on both ends of the floor.

“Tory Jackson seemingly was involved directly or indirectly [on every hustle play],” Bulls coach Robert McCullum said in his post-game press conference. “He was a big spark plug during that stretch.”

South Florida opened the second half on a quick 12-2 run to pull within 10 with 15:53 remaining. It was the closest the Bulls would get the rest of the way. The Irish responded with their own 17-2 run to take a commanding 65-40 lead and pull away for good.

Notre Dame addressed its rebounding problems following the team’s 102-87 loss to Villanova where the Wildcats out-rebounded the Irish 40-to-26.

But Sunday, Notre Dame grabbed 45 boards to South Florida’s 30.

“The emphasis for the past couple days was pretty much all on the defensive end of the floor,” Kurz said. “Rebounding, getting loose balls … everybody who had an opportunity to get a loose ball was on the floor, and was diving all over the place.”

The Bulls did a solid job limiting the offensive production of Irish guard Russell Carter, who scored nine points of 4-of-13 shooting. Brey pulled his senior tri-captain with a little over eight minutes remaining in the contest, worried he would get injured against South Florida’s physical defense.

“Russell is a marked man in the league now and they really took him away physically and overplayed him,” Brey said. “But I thought it opened up stuff for our other guys.

Falls scored 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting. The senior tri-captain has not attempted 12 field goals since a Jan. 3 win over Louisville.

“Falls hadn’t got that many looks clean in a while,” Brey said. “It’s almost like they switched the emphasis [from Falls to Carter].”

Irish forward Zach Hillesland had nine points on 3-of-4 shooting, but contributed more with his aggressive drives to the basket and ball distribution. He finished with four assists in 22 minutes.

South Florida center Kentrell Gransberry was the sole bright spot for the Bulls, scoring 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds.

But his 3-of-12 free throw shooting highlighted South Florida’s struggles from the stripe – the Bulls shot just 52 percent for the game.