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Men’s Basketball: L.A. nightmare

Chris Hine | Monday, February 9, 2009

LOS ANGELES – Over the span of Notre Dame’s seven-game losing streak, Irish coach Mike Brey has dubbed himself “Mr. Positive,” a man always in search of something good to build upon for the next game.

But the only positive the Irish (12-10) can take away from Saturday’s 89-63 loss to UCLA (19-4) is that they can’t possibly play any worse.

The freefalling Irish hit rock bottom at Pauley Pavilion, as the Bruins ran circles around an Irish team that, for all their struggles the past month, never looked as complacent, as sloppy or as helpless all season as it did Saturday.

And all the words Notre Dame has thrown around for the past month to explain how it’ll emerge from its tailspin – talk of soul searching and refocusing – never seemed as empty as they did Saturday.

“UCLA’s a good team and we knew that,” Irish forward Luke Harangody said. “We didn’t fight today at all and it showed.”

The 26-point loss was the largest margin of defeat for a Brey-coached team at Notre Dame. Harangody had his worst game of the season and for the first time in 53 games, scored less than 10 points. Harangody grabbed one rebound and finished with just five points on 2-for-12 shooting, a product of UCLA’s double teams that frustrated him the entire game.

“Time for us to go back to step one,” Harangody said. “There’s not much you could say. This was embarrassing today, definitely a low point in my career at Notre Dame.”

It didn’t take long for Notre Dame’s disastrous day to start.

Less than four minutes ticked off the clock before the Bruins opened up an 11-2 lead.

Nine points is hardly a large deficit, but Notre Dame couldn’t have been farther behind.

Bruins forward Nikola Dragovic had firmly planted Luke Harangody on his behind, the end result of a stiff rejection near the rim, and guard Josh Shipp had thrown down an ESPN-worthy one-handed alley-oop from guard Darren Collison.

“Our transition ‘D’ tonight was terrible,” Harangody said. “It was like a layup drill for them. That can’t happen. It’s embarrassing.”

The run was indicative of how UCLA carried itself in warm-ups, jumping up and down and chest bumping all around, showing no signs of sleepiness because of a 10 a.m. start time.

Then there was Notre Dame, who sat quietly during introductions – and played even quieter. The Irish committed turnovers, had lapses on defense and created little offensively. Notre Dame looked like a team that didn’t learn much from its six previous defeats.

Those opening minutes carried over the rest of the half. Following a Notre Dame timeout, Collison buried a three and center Alfred Aboya sent in another monster jam. Notre Dame was down 20-13 and fading fast. The rest of the first half, there were more turnovers by Notre Dame, more defensive lapses, and more easy baskets for UCLA. The Irish were down 46-30 at intermission.

“They got off to such a great start shooting the basketball and scoring it,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “We had some great looks early, which has been a little bit of our history this year and you’ve got to knock down a few more of those. Transition ‘D’ hurt us at key times.”

The Irish were down 16. Again, not an insurmountable deficit. But UCLA came out of the locker room with the same intensity it had in the first half – and so did the Irish. Another Collison 3-pointer made the score 65-40 with 12:21 left to play. Notre Dame failed to score over the next four minutes and found itself down 73-40 with 8:13 remaining. Brey took our Harangody with just over 10 minutes left and kept him on the bench the rest of the game.

“My feeling was, you weren’t jump-starting it today,” Brey said. “No use forcing that.”

Harangody, meanwhile, wasn’t too thrilled.

“I don’t know what he was trying to say to me, but I was ready to go in there the whole time,” Harangody said. “I’m kind of upset he didn’t go back to me. I didn’t think I had to go back in the game because he always knows I’m ready to fight for him.”

Aboya led all scorers with 19 points. Collison added 17. Junior guard Tory Jackson, who began the game on the bench, an attempt by Brey to get results by shaking up his rotation, led the Irish with 17 points. Guard Kyle McAlarney added 16.

“We’re obviously struggling right now. We’re not going to deny that,” McAlarney said. “We’re trying to find our way back from where we were in the beginning of the season. It’s a process, but hopefully with a win, one win, just look for one win right now.”

One win never seemed so hard to get.