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No more streaking

Chris Hine | Monday, January 26, 2009

 With 3:15 remaining in the game, Connecticut’s Kemba Walker drained a 3-pointer to give Connecticut a 12-point lead. A sudden hush came over the crowd at the Joyce Center as the basket all but confirmed the sobering fact that Notre Dame’s 45-game home winning streak was about to end Saturday.A few minutes later, Connecticut left Notre Dame with a 69-61 win.There was no late run as there was to save last year’s game against Pittsburgh, and no quick-thinking play was going to salvage a victory like it did when Luke Harangody stole the ball in the waning moments of regulation in an overtime win over Providence. After Walker’s basket there was just a chilling silence, a silence almost as cold as Notre Dame was from the field. The Irish shot just 25-for-76 (32.9 percent) for the night. Take away Harangody’s 10-for-23, 24-point performance and Tyrone Nash’s four field goals when the game was practically over, and Notre Dame shot just 11-for-49 (22.4 percent). Irish coach Mike Brey said Connecticut’s tall, physical presence in the form of 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, who finished with 12 points and 19 rebounds, forced Notre Dame to rely on its shooting, which wasn’t there Saturday. And when a team shoots like the Irish did Saturday, they stand little chance of beating the Huskies.”Defensively they’re tricky because the big guy back there kind of changes things,” Brey said, referring to Thabeet. “You’re moving a little bit differently with him in there.”Harangody was Notre Dame’s one constant on the offensive end. In addition to his 24 points, Harangody had 15 rebounds, battling against Thabeet in the low post. Harangody found ways to score against Thabeet, whether by reverse layup, hook shots or stepping outside to hit two 3s.Notre Dame’s defense kept the game close. The Irish did an admirable job of containing a bigger, quicker Connecticut team for most of the game. The Huskies shot just 40 percent from the floor. “Forty percent field goal percentage defense – that gave us a chance,” Brey said. “We were hanging around the whole time, that gave us a chance. Jamming up the lane, helping our big guys coming down, giving up jump shots.”But Notre Dame’s offense, or lack thereof, proved to be the difference, especially during a second half stretch where the Irish failed to score a field goal for 6:34. A Luke Zeller jumper snapped the drought with 2:20 left in the game, but by then Notre Dame was too far behind to mount a significant comeback. “I thought we got some clean, really good jump-shot looks,” Brey said. “It was hard to get anything in the paint against them. That’s no different than anybody in this league playing them, when you have to live outside that paint, you really do have to shoot it well. When we’ve beaten them with that size, we shot the hell out of the ball, but tonight we needed some more.”A number of times in the second half, Notre Dame was on the verge of putting together a large run to take the lead, as it had so many times during the win streak. All the ingredients were on the table – good defensive play, a rabid crowd – but one was missing: the dagger three-pointer. In the past, such runs included a basket like this from guard Kyle McAlarney or forward Ryan Ayers, baskets that would put Notre Dame ahead, keep the fans on their feet and cause opposing coached to call a timeout. On Saturday, the opportunities were there, the shots just didn’t fall. “I had some great looks that I think if I had knocked them down would’ve definitely changed the climate of the game,” McAlarney said.McAlarney finished the game 3-for-15 from the field, Ayers was 1-for-10. Forward Zach Hillesland finished 1-for-5 for two points. Notre Dame has no time for sulking, as it tips off against Marquette tonight at 7 p.m. The Golden Eagles are undefeated in Big East play and have basically the same team that defeated Notre Dame in two of three matchups last season. Jerome Dyson led all Connecticut scorers with 15 points. Thabeet finished with nine points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots.

Note:u Brey said in his post-game press conference that he’d like to use both Nash, who finished with eight points in two minutes, and Carleton Scott a little more against Marquette. He also said a starting lineup change is not out of the question for tonight’s game.

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