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Men’s basketball: Irish fall in sixth straight

Greg Arbogast | Thursday, February 5, 2009

Notre Dame’s season is turning into a bad movie series. The sequel is just like its predecessor, which was nearly identical to the one before that. All have ended badly for the Irish.

For the sixth consecutive game, Notre Dame hung tough with its opponent for a stretch before watching the game slip out of reach in the second half. This time, the villain was Cincinnati. With their 93-83 win Wednesday, the Bearcats handed Notre Dame their first six-game losing streak under coach Mike Brey.

“The beat goes on, baby, ” Brey said. “We keep struggling. ”

For the first 30-plus minutes of Wednesday’s game, the Irish and Bearcats went back and forth looking like two teams playing to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes from slipping out of reach. With 14:34 remaining in the second half, there had been 14 lead changes and nine ties in the game. Then it all started to fall apart for Notre Dame.

As has been the case throughout the losing streak, the Irish were unable to get enough defensive stops to keep up with their opponent.

Cincinnati guard Deonta Vaughn hit a 3-pointer off a high screen and fellow guard Larry Davis hit a lay-up to give the Bearcats a five-point edge with just under 14 minutes to play. Irish forward Luke Harangody answered with a pair of free throws, but Vaughn responded with another trey off the same high screen that had worked two possessions earlier.

Notre Dame forward Ryan Ayers hit a jump shot, but consecutive baskets by Cincinnati pushed its lead to 61-52 – the largest lead of the game for either team at that point – causing Brey to call a timeout with 11 minutes remaining. Although they scored 31 points over the final 11 minutes, the Irish could get no closer on the scoreboard.

“We’ve got to be able to play defense, get rebounds and stop teams from putting up 90 on us, ” Irish forward Zach Hillesland said.

Cincinnati’s 93 points were a season-high for the Bearcats, and it was the third time in their losing streak that the Irish have given up 93 points.

Notre Dame’s troubles on the defensive end Wednesday night stemmed from an inability to deal with the inside-outside combination of forward Yancy Gates and Vaughn. Vaughn, who entered Wednesday’s contest averaging 15.3 points per game, exploded against the Irish for a season-high 34 points.

Although a good number of Vaughn’s points came from the charity stripe in the final minutes of the game, Notre Dame was generous in the space they gave Vaughn to shoot all night. The Cincinnati guard took full advantage, hitting five of 11 3-point attempts including the two treys that put the Bearcats on their way in the second half.

“I love to be under the radar as a team, ” Vaughn said. “Most teams don’t key on you or talk about you. If we keep winning, they’ll see what we’re capable of. ”

Inside, the Irish had no answer for the freshman Gates. The 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward had his way down low, scoring 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting. His offensive presence also opened up shots outside for his teammates, and the Bearcats took advantage by shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

On the offensive end, the Irish continued their second-half trend from the Pittsburgh game of not finding their 3-point shots. Notre Dame attempted only 13 treys, three of which came in the final 2:30 of the game. Worse yet, the Irish made only three of those long-distance shots – good for a percentage of 23.1.

Harangody put up his customary big numbers as he finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. It was his eleventh consecutive double-double.