California Reality: Older, Faster, Better

Those who felt Notre Dame didn't belong in the same category as Arizona, Duke and Kansas looked like they knew what they were talking about. A game, but undermanned Irish team hung with Arizona for about 12 minutes Thursday night. After that, the Wildcats humbled their opposition with waves of prep All-Americans. "This is what we aspire to," said Mike Brey following the 88-71 defeat. Alan Tieuli reports from the locker-room in Anaheim's Arrowhead Pond.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

March 27, 2003

Arizona Inspires;
Departed Irish Aspire

By Alan Tieuli
IrishEyes Magazine

ANAHEIM, Calif. (IE) – There was one instant in the second-half when you thought Notre Dame might have a chance. 

The Irish had whittled an 18-point Arizona lead to 10 and had possession with a little less than 19 minutes to play.   Senior Dan Miller spotted up for a wide-open baseline three as the Notre Dame bench collectively rose, along with the Irish Nation. 

The shot rimmed out, the Wildcats rebounded, and in transition Salim Stoudamire hit a top-of-the-key three.  Twenty-five seconds later, Luke Walton worked baseline for an easy hoop.  Before you knew it, Arizona had 10-2 run and the game was over. 

"Dan missed a couple of shots," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. "And the thing about it was, when Arizona turned and brought it back on us, it wasn't Illinois." 

Indeed.  The Irish coach meant no disrespect to the 10th ranked Illini, but Arizona is in the penthouse of college basketball.  The Wildcats have been to 11 Sweet Sixteen's under head coach Lute Olson and every bit of that experience showed in an 88-71 rout of Notre Dame Thursday night at the sold-out Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim.  There was simply no comparing the two teams as the 24-10 Irish trailed by double digits the final 28:32. 

"They are an elite program," said senior guard Matt Carroll, who concluded his glorious career with an 11-point effort in 28 inconsistent minutes. "You think of Arizona and you think of one of the best programs every year.  We're close, but we're not there yet." 

Not real close, either.  The Irish, making their first Sweet Sixteen appearance in 16 years, continued a troubling trend of rolling over defensively for upper echelon teams.   In calendar year 2003 Notre Dame finished 2-6 against ranked squads, allowing an average of 79.1 points per game, including 80-plus in five. 

At least the final score wasn't as bad as it could have been.  Arizona, a sterling 28-3, scored 33 points in the first 10 minutes, 45 in the first 14 and at one point was on a pace to tally 132.  Fortunately, the Wildcats got a bit sloppy and inpatient when the game got out of hand in the second-half or the Irish quite likely would have allowed 100 points for the first time in NCAA play since the Austin Carr era. 

"To have a chance in this game we had to score 90 points," said Brey. "We just don't have the manpower to stop them." 

Notre Dame wasn't going to tally 90 on this night, not with Carroll shooting four-for-14 and fellow senior Dan Miller four-for-13.  Not with sophomore point guard Chris Thomas turning it over seven times. 

"They quickness got up under us," said Brey. "It bothered us." 

"It's definitely been a tough couple of weeks for me," said Carroll, who indicated his sprained ankle was 100-percent, although his statistics indicate otherwise. "I needed to be at my best in this game and I wasn't even close." 


Adams (r) Decks ND (AP Photo)

One Irish player who was worthy of the opposition was freshman center Torin Francis.   He made 10-of-11 field goals (including a three) in notching a career-high 25 points.  He also had 10 rebounds and two blocks and completed his first NCAA run with averages of 17.6 points and 12.6 boards in three games. 

"Is there a better young big man in the country?" Brey enthused. "I'm so excited about his future." 

Francis couldn't keep Notre Dame in the game alone.  Not that the Tabor Academy standout didn't try.  He scored 13 of the Irish's final 18 points of the first-half. 

But how could Notre Dame expect to compete with an Arizona team that started three seniors – Jason Gardner, Luke Walton and Rick Anderson – who have now collectively played 42 NCAA Tournament games?  And how about the Wildcats bringing a pair of freshmen McDonald's and Nike prep All-Americans off the bench? 

"It's pretty good when you can bring guys like that off the bench," said Brey, referring to Arizona's Hassan Adams and Andre Iguodala, who combined for 17 points, seven rebounds and five steals in 41 minutes. "We aspire to be that." 

It was Adams – California Mr. Basketball at Westchester High in LA – who turned the game around.  Coming out with the same level of confidence and effectiveness it displayed early against Illinois, Notre Dame led 12-7 at the 16:41 mark of the first-half.   It was still 22-21 Irish when Adams entered at the 13-minute mark and immediately scored on a backdoor cut. 

The 6-4 guard dialed up the defensive intensity and got Notre Dame to play faster than it was able to.  Before you knew it, a 26-25 Irish lead had become a 31-26 Arizona advantage after Adams scored consecutive baskets and goaded Thomas into a turnover that led to an Anderson dunk. 

That was just the start as Arizona would go on a suffocating 22-3 run over six minutes, effectively ending the contest. 


Macura, Cornette, Quinn Endure (AP Photo)

"The thing they say about West Coast basketball is that we play soft," said Olson, the silver-haired and Hall of Fame Wildcats coach.  "I don't think that's the case at all.  We've had a lot of success with runs this year, and normally they come off our defense." 

Adams finished with 14 points on seven-of-nine shooting.  Walton had 16 including eight straight in the second-half as Arizona built its lead as high as 25, 81-56.   Center Channing Frye – in the mother of all mismatches – abused junior Tom Timmermans early, scoring 10 points before the first TV timeout.  He finished with 14, and 12 rebounds.  Stoudamire, the cousin of NBA standout and former Arizona standout Damon Stoudamire, had 11. 

Gardner was the fifth Wildcat in double figures, notching 19 points with six assists in 34 minutes.  He thoroughly outplayed his old Indianapolis prep rival, Thomas, and got in a nice verbal salvo at the end. 

"He said he beat me three times in high school," Gardner said.  "I find that hard to believe, but if it did happen, this more than makes up for it." 

Gardner, on the verge of becoming only the third Arizona player to score 2,000 career points, leads his team into Saturday's West Regional final against Kansas, a squad the Wildcats pounded during the regular season.  Notre Dame, having registered its most wins in a season since 1987, heads into the off-season reasonably satisfied. 

"Nobody is crying in that locker-room," said Brey. "We had a great year, given where we started and how we were thought of in November.  There were a lot of question marks about us. To see this group come together, I'm very proud of them.   As I told the seniors, I thanked them. It's been three years of a lot of new territory for our program, all good territory." 

And now the Irish know full well how elite the Sweet Sixteen territory is.  They'll need to bring a lot more rent money next time. 

"The bar has been raised," said Thomas. "You have to take that into consideration.  Arizona has been here for so many years, and this is just out third year in the tournament."

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IRISHEYES NOTEBOOK: Notre Dame Nation was very well represented at the Pond.  Thanks in large part to the Notre Dame Club of Orange County – the second largest alumni group in the country behind Chicago – the Irish completely sold out their allotment of tickets.  Duke didn't sell all of its seats and ND gladly took and sold out of those also……Seen in the house, Notre Dame football recruit (and IrishEyes Magazine cover boy) Freddie Parish……Talk about ruining your evening.  By the time afternoon officially turned into night here in the Pacific time zone, Notre Dame was down 23.  With a paucity of fouls, the game was completed in a tidy 1:54…….When the Irish did get to the line, they didn't help themselves, missing seven of 18……Carroll completes his wonderful career with 133 games played, 125 starts and 301 three-point field goals, all school records.  His 1,850 career points place him sixth all-time, just in front of Tom Hawkins (1,820) and one spot behind Troy Murphy (2,011)…….Bad night for the Big East, with Pittsburgh falling to Marquette.  The Orange County Register reported Thursday morning that Panther coach  Ben Howland is considered to be a significant favorite to get the UCLA job, though one wonders why Howland would leave a new building, a burgeoning program and a better salary to head to Westwood……The Irish will next gather officially on the court in October with a preseason exhibition trip to Barbados close to becoming reality……Notre Dame's bench was outscored 19-4 by Arizona with the only Irish basket a three by freshman Chris Quinn……Senior captain Jere Macura did not play in this game and his last registered minute in an Irish uniform came December 30 against Vanderbilt.  Brey and Macura had reached an understanding in January that Macura – a prideful individual – would not be getting off the bench in garbage time. "He doesn't want to be put in a situation where he loses face, and I can appreciate that," Brey told IrishEyes in late January. "He's going to make a lot of money playing this game next year." Brey is working with Macura to find the native Croatian professional opportunities in Europe.  

(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes Magazine and can be reached at aatandsonspr@aol.com.  For subscription information on IrishEyes Magazine please visit www.irisheyes.com or call 888-501-5752)


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