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Gastelum: Irish need to take risks, be more like Louisville (March 15)

Andrew Gastelum | Saturday, March 16, 2013

NEW YORK – Whoever said that baseball was the only game of inches?

Well okay, maybe Pat Connaughton has, but at Madison Square Garden on Friday night, basketball adopted that very role. Again.

With under eight minutes left in the game, it was 45-41. Louisville led, but the stats were eerily identical. Field goal shooting was within percentage points. Rebounds were almost even. Same with points in the paint and bench points. It was a fairly even game, played possession by possession between two teams who are more than familiar with one another.

 Then, the Cardinals pull away in the last 10 minutes of the second half, showing who the superior team was while Notre Dame got lost in the dust.

Except it didn’t just happen Friday night. Last Saturday in the regular-season finale, Notre Dame trailed by six with 10:54 left to go before Louisville pulled away again. And on Feb. 9, Notre Dame kept it close until the Cardinals built an eight-point lead.

And without Jerian Grant going all “Space Jam” with superhuman basketball powers in the last 45 seconds, the Louisville story has been the same over and over and over again. The last ‘over’ just happened to be at Madison Square Garden, again.

In fact, Louisville has knocked Notre Dame out of the Big East tournament in each of the last three semifinals. And even those games have been played closely.

The deciding factors are the guards. The difference is the killer instinct.

Louisville has been to four of the last five Big East championships. Notre Dame has been to four consecutive semifinals.
Louisville spreads the floor, relies on its guards to run the offense and uses the big men for the dirty work. Sounds a lot like Notre Dame, doesn’t it? But the Cardinals take risks. They run the floor. They put the ball in their guards’ hands and say go.

The Irish can learn from this. To succeed as Louisville has succeeded, they need to go from conservative to risk-taking, like Mike Brey went from turtleneck to button down.

It’s time they did that, for their fans, for the ACC and for themselves. Gone are the days where Notre Dame needs to run with four guards taking turns shooting threes. Gone, too, are the days of the burn offense. The Irish can compete physically and mentally with the best of them now.

But they are being held back.

Notre Dame needs to be more like Louisville. They need to take risks. Take risks like they did down 13 points to a Marquette team that “thumped” them. Take risks like they did with telling Connaughton to shoot every time he is open. Take risks like moving to the ACC.

The Irish have incredible talent at the guard position. Peyton Siva called the Notre Dame backcourt the most underrated unit in college basketball. So why not give them move creative freedom in the offense, just as Rick Pitino runs with the ups and the downs of an incredibly gifted talent in Russ Smith. Atkins and Grant can handle it; they can be more than just facilitators.

The Irish are stuck in their growing pains. They don’t run the burn anymore, but at the same time they are afraid to push the tempo.

Well, there is a reason why they can hardly ever reach the Sweet 16. There is also a reason why Saturdays of spring break are spent on a plane ride to South Bend instead of on the hardwood at the Garden.

It’s because they are afraid to do something different and they are afraid to make mistakes. Brey saw what can happen if his team changes it up in the Marquette win.

But instead, the Irish leave Madison Square Garden once again thanks to Louisville. And this time, there is no more hope for getting to Saturday next year.

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu
The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.