Men’s Basketball: That’s all, folks.
Chris Hine | Sunday, March 23, 2008
DENVER – Irish coach Mike Brey said his offense would be comfortable playing with its usual, run-and-gun tempo or battling Washington State in half-court offense. Unfortunately for the Irish, Washington State defended both styles fairly well.
Thanks to a sagging and suffocating man-to-man defense that made the country forget Notre Dame averaged 80.2 points coming into the NCAA Tournament, Washington State sent Notre Dame home for the season and ended senior captain Rob Kurz’s career with a 61-41 thumping at the Pepsi Center.
“I think you certainly take your hat off to Washington State,” Brey said. “They imposed their will on us.”
In the process, the Irish set or tied a few records for offensive futility under Brey – fewest points scored in a game, tied the lowest points for a half (19 in the first half), and lowest field goal percentage for a game (24.5 percent).
The loss was only the second time in school history the Irish have lost by 20 or more points in the NCAA Tournament – and it marked the final game for Kurz, who finished with eight points and three rebounds.
“I have a lot of great memories with these guys,” Kurz said. “It’s been a wonderful year. We had so many great wins and great successes, but obviously this one really hurts.”
Kurz helped instill a tireless work ethic into his teammates, and many of them said throughout the season Notre Dame wouldn’t have made it this far without him.
“I wish we could have extended his season,” Brey said. “I will always be indebted to his leadership, how he set the tone as an example of a worker in our program, a guy who made himself better.”
But no amount of hard work could have saved Notre Dame from the offensive woes it had Saturday. Washington state held the Irish to just 13-for-53 shooting for the game, including 3-for-17 from 3-point land, and held Big East player of the year Luke Harangody to just 10 points on 3-for-17 shooting. Harangody did pull down a career-high 22 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to counter his team’s miserable day shooting. The Cougars employed on-and-off double teams to surprise Harangody and contested each shot he took.
“I think maybe [the double-teams] frustrated them a little bit,” Washington State forward Robbie Cowgill said. “The guards did a great job of rotating. I think also the refs let us play. They let us be physical in there. Sometimes he tries to create contact and get some of those. That didn’t happen [Saturday].”
Washington State wouldn’t just double-team Harangody, however. When the Irish drove to the basket, at least two Cougars defenders greeted them and made shooting or passing out of the trap difficult. Coming off screens, the Cougars hedged or beat Notre Dame around them and made it hard for the Irish to use the screens well.
Brey said even though Washington State’s double-teams affected the Irish early in the game his team was able to get some open looks — they just didn’t fall.
“Why didn’t we shoot the ball well? No. 1, they play defense,” Brey said. “No. 2, you’re a little tired because you play defense against them for 25 seconds.”
After falling behind 38-24 with 15:52 left to play in the game, the Irish mounted a small comeback. Junior forward Zach Hillesland and Harangody each hit a pair of free throws and Notre Dame managed to string together a few defensive stops. Junior guard Kyle McAlarney, who led Notre Dame with 12 points on 5-for-13 shooting, then hit a three after a Harangody offensive rebound to cut the Cougars lead to seven with 13:49 to play. After a jumper by Cougars guard Derrick Low brought the lead back up to nine, McAlarney had a chance to cut the lead to six, but his three-pointer went in-and-out.
After trading baskets the next few possessions, Washington State went on a 12-2 run to put the game out of reach. Cowgill started it off by hitting two consecutive perimeter jumpers. After guard Tory Jackson turned it over on Notre Dame’s end, Washington State guard Kyle Weaver had Kyle McAlarney beat by a step on a fast-break to the basket. But McAlarney didn’t let Weaver have the easy bucket, and reached out to grab Weaver as he went up for the shot.
Only, the referees whistled McAlarney for an intentional foul. Weaver hit both free throws and then hit one-of-two after the Cougars got the ball back and he got fouled again. On the Cougars next possession, guard Derrick Low hit a three to put the his team up 52-35 with 8:34 left and end any hope of an Irish comeback. Notre Dame never got closer than 17 the rest of the game.
The Cougars hardly put on an offensive clinic of their own, managing to shoot a middling 24-for-54 from the floor and just 4-for-17 from beyond the arc, but Low and Weaver proved a handful for Notre Dame to guard. Low finished with a game-high 18 points and the 6-foot-6 Weaver were a tough matchup Notre Dame, finishing with 15 points and nine rebounds while Cougars guard Taylor Rochestie finished with seven assists. Low and Weaver each had three steals as well.
“[Low and Weaver] are very good wings. They’re threats. They can either go to the hoop, or they can shoot the three or a jump shot. So you have to be aware of that. They were coming off all those screens. The big guys were setting good screens for them and the were curling or fading. They’re very versatile and multi-threats.”
Things began promising enough for Notre Dame, Tory Jackson began his second straight game with a three-pointer and McAlarney added one of his patented runners in the lane to put the Irish up 5-0 with 18:24 left to play in the first half. But things quickly went downhill from there. Notre Dame managed just two points over the next 8:42 and Washington State jumped out to a 17-9 lead with 9:42 left. During that stretch, Low scored six points and Weaver poured in four. Notre Dame would pull within six after a pair of free throws from Kurz, but Washington State went on an 11-2 run, capped off by a three from Low.