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Owens: Young players dominate against Wildcat defense (Jan. 31)

Andrew Owens | Wednesday, January 30, 2013

During the preseason, “experience” was the buzzword surrounding Notre Dame. Following an out-of-nowhere 10-2 Big East finish last season after a 3-3 start, the Irish returned every key contributor for the 2012-13 slate.

Like last year, the Big East portion of the schedule has hardly stayed true to the script, but this time in a negative way. Injured graduate student guard Scott Martin represents Notre Dame’s issues with his play this season, but it isn’t just him. As a whole, the squad has not played with the same overachieving mentality it carried last year.

Trailing by five late in the first half to Villanova in a game that could have landed Notre Dame anywhere from third to 10th in the Big East “dogfight” as Irish coach Mike Brey called it, it wasn’t experience that helped the Irish pull away in the 65-60 victory; it was a youth resurgence.

Freshman forward Cam Biedscheid drilled a critical 3-pointer with 40 seconds left in the first half to pull the Irish within two points. It proved to be just the spark of Biedscheid’s blaze to give the Irish their fifth conference win.

“They feel I’m a gamer and can make shots when I have them,” said Biedscheid, who scored 18 points behind a 5-of-7 effort from beyond the arc. “Even when I miss them, they give me the confidence to keep shooting them.”

He scored 15 of Notre Dame’s 23 points in a stretch totaling just under 13 minutes in which the Irish turned a five-point deficit into a four-point lead. He shined in the second half after playing just six minutes in the first.

Brey embraced change Wednesday evening, and not only by ditching the typical mock-turtleneck look. Struggling senior center Garrick Sherman remained in his doghouse with just three minutes and sophomore forward Pat Connaughton failed to score in 20 minutes. Brey chose youth over experience with Biedscheid and freshman forward Zach Auguste for much of the second half, which proved to be the difference in a tight five-point win.

After Biedscheid went on his tear, Auguste contributed with a couple of key plays that are unlikely to be remembered but were crucial in the Irish win.

Notre Dame led by four points with just under eight minutes to play when junior guard Jerian Grant found the wide-open Auguste on a fast break. The freshman pulled it in and made the layup to corral a six-point lead. On the next Irish possession, he received a pass underneath the basket, but he bobbled it before controlling possession just in front of the baseline. He made up for his freshman miscue by readjusting to gain position underneath the basket and used the glass to give Notre Dame a 54-48 lead.

Brey raved about Auguste’s fearlessness on the court.

“I love the energy Zach gave us tonight,” said Brey, who added that the freshman can risk fouling more often because he’s expendable.

Where the Irish go from here is anyone’s guess. Bottling the youth and energy might just give Notre Dame its best opportunity to remain among the top half of the Big East moving forward, as it did with Connaughton and Grant last year.

A new cast of characters has emerged as Brey turns to an alternate script once again.

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu.

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