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Men’s Basketball: The bubble bursts

Greg Arbogast | Tuesday, March 3, 2009

With 1:41 remaining in Monday’s game, Villanova’s Dwayne Anderson picked up a loose ball and threw down a thunderous dunk sending Irish fans streaming for the exits. The play was an exclamation point on the fact that the Irish let Monday’s game, and most likely their NCAA Tournament hopes, slip from their grasp.

After nearly pulling off a season-defining upset Saturday against Connecticut, Notre Dame was humbled 77-60 by Villanova leaving the Irish wondering what postseason plans await them.

“I would say it is frustrating because you had two opportunities here Saturday and Monday to get a real quality win, and we couldn’t get it,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “The disappointing thing is we played really well on Saturday. We didn’t play as well tonight. I know our guys are frustrated and disappointed.”

No moment could have been more frustrating for Brey and his team than a second half stretch in which a close game quickly got out of hand.

With 11:02 remaining, Ryan Ayers hit a 3-pointer to bring Notre Dame within one at 51-50. The Irish would score only one point over the next 6:53 as Villanova went on a 16-1 run putting the game out of reach.

During that stretch, Notre Dame turned the ball over four times. Those miscues were part of a larger theme for the night as the Irish turned the ball over 15 times in total – well above their NCAA-leading season average of 9.6

“They made us play faster than we’re used to,” point guard Tory Jackson said of the Wildcats’ defense. “Defensively, they get right up in you, touching you. They’re very scrappy. At first we were in a rhythm, but they took us right out of it.”

“They got up in us, denied some passing angles,” Irish forward Ryan Ayers said. “They got their hands on the ball, forced some turnovers. They made us feel uncomfortable.”

All night Notre Dame seemed bothered by the Wildcats’ defensive quickness. With no starter taller than 6-foot-8, Villanova played a switching, fluid defense that kept the Irish from getting comfortable on their favorite spots on the perimeter.

No Irish player felt the defensive pressure more than guard Kyle McAlarney. After hitting a 3-pointer 19 seconds into the game, McAlarney wouldn’t score again until there was only 2:42 remaining in the game. McAlarney, who entered Monday averaging 12.9 shots per game, took only seven shots on the evening.

“That was our best defensive game we played all year,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “They are an outstanding team and preparing for them is so difficult. For us to defend them like that is the best performance we have had in a long time defensively.”

Offensively, Monday was the Scottie Reynolds show for Villanova. The senior point guard was deadly accurate all night hitting six-of-seven three-point attempts finishing with 23 points. Reynolds also finished with five assists to go along with only one turnover.

“I think we were up by four in the second half, and then Reynolds gets going,” Brey said. “The two threes he hit [early in the second half] really jumpstarted them. Overall, they were difficult for us to guard. Their speed was difficult for us to guard in the second half.”

One bright spot for Notre Dame was the play of sophomore forward Ty Nash. Making his first start of the season, Nash led the team in rebounds grabbing 11 in 25 minutes of action. Monday marked the second consecutive game that Nash has led the Irish in rebounding.


uNotre Dame forward Zach Hillesland dressed for Monday’s game but didn’t enter the contest due to a bruised sternum suffered Saturday at Connecticut. Brey said that he hopes to have Hillesland available for Senior Night on Friday when the Irish take on St. John’s.