O'Malley's Key Three

Notre Dame beats Butler at its own game to earn its first Sweet 16 birth since 2003.

1. AN EPIC KILL

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey uses a term when his Irish defense comes up with three consecutive defensive stops: a kill.

Those three stops, Brey believes, can help turn the tide in any close game, be it extend a lead, allow his squad to cut into a deficit as they did one week ago vs. North Carolina, or simply swing a game's momentum.

Last night in Pittsburgh, Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton personally delivered a kill -- on Butler's final possession of regulation….against three different Bulldogs…in an eight-second span.

"They've been amazingly resilient," said Brey of his group. "We've defended all five games of the postseason to get where we're at."

Connaughton, with a little help from Steve Vasturia, negated three disparate potential game winners:

-- 0:08 remaining: Matched with the heretofore unstoppable Roosevelt Jones, one-on-one up top, Connaughton slid with Jones down the right side of the lane where Vasturia deftly stepped over (rather than "up," which would have allowed Jones a passing lane) to put his chest into Jones, forcing a difficult push shot as Jones sailed toward the baseline (rather than toward the rim).

Zach Auguste corralled the air-ball miss but committed a double-dribble violation attempting to advance the ball.

-- 0:02: Butler assumed possession following Auguste's error with a sideline out of bounds. Connaughton took the defensive assignment of Bulldogs sharp-shooter Kellan Dunham, who shook free of the Irish senior captain with a hard step toward the three-point wing before sprinting to the open right corner. Connaughton recovered, then exploded toward Dunham, launching himself at the shooter's right hand to volleyball spike the would-be-game-winner out of bounds with 0.06 to play.

-- 0.06 seconds remaining: With the Bulldogs in-bounding from their right baseline corner, Dunham lobbed an alley-oop to Kameron Woods (15 boards and 3 blocks on the evening) in front of the Irish basket. Connaughton crowded the high-flying Woods, forcing a weak air ball tip attempt from five feet out.

End regulation. A Connaughton-fueled kill completed.

Less than a minute into overtime, Conaughton nailed a corner three-pointer -- his first of evening that rang true in six attempts -- and the Irish took a five-point lead they'd never relinquish.

With seven points, nine rebounds, five blocked shots -- and an epic kill -- to his credit, the nation's ultimate "glue guy" helped send his teammates to the Sweet 16.

2. SOPHOMORES SUPER

Steve Vasturia's final three points of the evening -- a buzzer-beating corner dagger from beyond the arc -- not only provided his career-best 20th point, but likely provided the final nail in Butler's coffin, extending Notre Dame's lead from one to four points, 65-61 with 1:25 remaining.

It was a fitting offensive conclusion for Vasturia, whose myriad contributions on both sides of the floor earned the Irish sophomore our game MVP award against the never-say-die Bulldogs.

In addition to his team-high 20 points were six rebounds, a 6-for-6 effort from the charity stripe, and a pair of steals, Vasturia provided the best defense Notre Dame had to offer, first against Butler sharpshooter Kellen Dunham (13 field goal attempts, only two of which found the net -- with one occurring against Jerian Grant, not Vasturia), and then, when all other avenues had been explored, against the enigmatic, irresistible force that was Roosevelt Jones.

Jones found success against Vasturia as well (seven of his game-high 23 points), but the Irish sophomore was able to expertly fight Jones away from the low block, and in all but two instances, away from the rim where he had previously operated with impunity.

Vasturia's classmate Demetrius Jackson added 13 points including four plus an assist in a 3:22 span that brought the Irish from down six points, 47-41, to up one, 51-50, with 5:15 remaining.

Jackson likewise spent the better part of the contest hounding Butler point guard Alex Barlow for nearly 65 feet per possession. Barlow finished with two points, hitting just one of six field goal attempts before fouling out in overtime. (Barlow was however fantastic defensively vs. Jerian Grant.)

It was Jackson that Butler couldn't defend when staked to a six-point lead, momentum squarely in their favor. And it was Jackson's "Mother-in-law" defense (a term coined by head coach Rick Pitino during his Providence days referring to "constant pressure and harassment) that keyed an Irish defensive effort that resulted in a 33 percent shooting night for the Bulldogs.

While both Connaughton and Jerian Grant (momentum-seizing assist to Vasturia, plus a game-clinching lefty layup thereafter) came up big when it mattered most, it was Vasturia and Jackson that provided more than 40 minutes of championship basketball.

3. BEATING THEM AT THEIR OWN GAME

The teams combined for 71 missed field goals and a 10 for 33 effort from long range.

The game included 12 steals, 13 blocked shots, and 43 free throw attempts of which 35 rang true.

Deliberate. Gritty. No quarter given, none asked.

It was Butler basketball all the way. But Saturday night -- in a game fittingly played in Pittsburgh's Steel City -- Notre Dame showed it could prevail under such adverse conditions.

It wasn't the first time.

Upon review of the team's thrilling 31-5 season still in progress, it might be more accurate to refer to Saturday night's outcome as "Notre Dame ball" -- only with a few more missed shots intermixed.

"We made big plays down the stretch, and we've been that all year," said Vasturia. "Getting big defensive stops, hitting shots."

While the Irish found a way to win playing Butler's brand of ball, neither the Bulldogs, nor the vast majority of foes that came before them have been able to do the same to Notre Dame when faced with an extra session -- the Irish are 13-2 in overtime games over the last four seasons including 4-0 this year.

"The game was a lot like games we've been in," said Brey. "Dog fights."

"I don't think anybody in the country makes clutch shots better than our group. It's not just one guy. It's a number of different guys that have done it. And I just think we just, we kind of love that moment. And you don't find that much."

They're headed for the Sweet 16 as a result. As a fan of Irish basketball over the last 35 years, you haven't found that much, either.


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