HARDER AND HARDER TO BREATHE
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett's "Pack Line" defense is based on adherence to basic principles:
-- Deny easy post touches and interior passes to cutters
-- When post touches occur, double-team the ball hard with a second big man
-- Force dribble penetration into help, not open space
-- Contest jump shots and everything at the rim
-- Hedge ball screens hard, forcing the dribbler wide rather than to the rim
Check, Check, check, mild breakdown, and wow, check.
"It's hard to simulate it. Their big guys did a great job hedging on all those ball screens," said Irish sophomore Demetrius Jackson. "We knew it would be a tough game. They're a great team, obviously."
After hitting for better than 50 percent from the field in 14 of their first 16 games, and never worse than 46 percent (MSU, at UNC), Notre Dame shot just 33.9 percent vs. the Cavaliers second-ranked defense. Exacerbating the problem was a 6 for 12 effort by the hosts from the charity stripe.
After falling behind 16-6, the Irish were able to do damage from beyond the arc in the first half en route to a 27-24 lead at the break. Notre Dame hit five of nine from long range prior to intermission -- just five of 15 thereafter.
"It's a long season" said Jackson of the team's need to bounce back with a road trip to Georgia Tech on the horizon. "This game only counts as one loss in the conference. We just want to bounce back, continue to work hard in practice, and go back and fight again."
FIRST HALF HERO, SECOND HALF ZERO
The Irish received a huge first-half lift off the bench from sharp-shooter V.J. Beachem. The sophomore tallied 12 points on 4 of 7 shooting including a tip-dunk in transition and trio of three-points shots, adding three rebounds in 13 minutes.
After the break? Eight minutes of nearly nothing -- one rebound, two missed shots, and a 10-minute stretch in crunch time during which he did not see the floor.
"The guys were finding me and I was sliding into open shots," said Beachem of his strong first half. "I really didn't get that many clean looks in the second half."
Irish head coach Mike Brey noted post game that he needed Steve Vasturia's defensive efforts more after the break, thus limiting Beachem's floor time, late.
LEFT TO FEND FOR HIMSELF
Starter Jerian Grant finished with six. Fellow first-stringer Zach Auguste just four. A third starter, Vasturia, did not score. Combined they shot 4 for 20 from the field as the Cavaliers defense clamped down (Grant finished with six assists). Backup center Martinas Geben played 13 ineffective minutes, scoring just one point with one rebound.
One Irishman that fought free through the stifling Cavaliers defense, especially through a trying second stanza, was senior Pat Connaughton: 8 for 15 shooting for a game-high 21 points including 16 after intermission. The rest of the Irish team scored just 13 over the game's final 20 minutes.
"We're not trying to hang tough, we're trying to win ballgames," said Connaughton. "At the end of the day, I don't think it was us losing the game as it was them winning the game. I think we can learn from why they did on those winning plays that will help us down the stretch."
Connaughton added eight boards to tie for the game high and was the only Notre Dame player not to miss a free throw in precious few trips to the line.