Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™
December 1, 2001
Irish are United
In Hoops Perfection
By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service
We could point out that DePaul lost seven of its final eight games last winter and wasn't competitive in its one quality contest this season, at Syracuse.
But why dwell on the negatives when there are so many positives with this undefeated Notre Dame basketball team.
The Irish moved to 7-0 for the first time since 1979-80 with an easy 82-55 victory over DePaul this afternoon at the Dell Classic 4 Kids at the United Center. The home of the Chicago Bulls was the venue for marquee performances by the Irish's almost certain future NBA players – senior power forward Ryan Humphrey and freshman point guard Chris Thomas.
Humphrey, who entered averaging 24.8 in his four games, had his second double-double of the season with 18 points and 16 rebounds, and clearly was the commanding presence in the low blocks, even against a DePaul team that went 6-9, 6-9, 6-9.
"Ryan Humphrey is as a good a low post player as we'll see in Conference USA this season, and probably as good as any in the country," said DePaul coach Pat Kennedy.
Thomas dominated his much ballyhooed match-up with DePaul sophomore Imari Sawyer. Entertaining the crowd with his court vision and no-look passes, Thomas quarterbacked an efficient Irish offense, contributing 12 points, five assists and court awareness that far transcended the statistics. Defensively, he shut down Sawyer, holding the former Chicago prep phenom to five points.
"Chris is mature beyond his years," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. "I was worried about this game because it was the first one when the lights were a little brighter. Chris passed with flying colors."
Not that the Irish are a two-man show. Once again, all five starters did yeomen's work with Harold Swanagan again making an early bid for Most Improved Player. The Hopkinsville, Kentucky senior had a powerful double-double, 16 points and 11 rebounds. Classmate David Graves contributed 14 points.
This was the most lopsided victory for Notre Dame over DePaul since a 107-76 decision on February 13, 1971, in Chicago. The Irish now lead the all-time series 48-41, notching its first triumph over the Blue Demons since January 29, 1992.
Last season, the Irish blasted another Conference USA foe, Cincinnati, on another NBA floor, Conseco Fieldhouse. It was one of several key stepping stones to the NCAA Tournament. Could this game serve the same purpose?
"I think," Kennedy said, "Notre Dame is better this year. They just run their offense better and have more weapons."
Eventually Notre Dame will trail in a game this season, but it was not on this afternoon. The Irish jumped out to a 14-4 lead just after the first media timeout and established that it was the more poised, talented team. The advantage extended to 24-10 at the 11-minute mark as Brey's team had built a staggering 15-5 rebounding edge.
By the three-minute mark of the first-half Humphrey had his double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) and the Irish lead was at 34-18. His halftime point total swelled to 14 with an athletic three-point play that gave Notre Dame its biggest first-half lead, 39-20.
De Paul closed slightly to 41-26 at the intermission but it was clear DePaul did not have the guns to compete against an Irish squad on the top of its game. Even when Notre Dame went cold – missing six consecutive shots on five possessions in one first-half stretch -- the defense buckled down and only allowed DePaul to carve three points off the lead.
"We're keeping things simple," said Brey. "The good thing about these kids is that digest the information you give them. We don't give them much, but they have really absorbed what we have and they are executing."
When Notre Dame hit six of its first eight shots to start the second-half, expanding the lead to 55-36, it was all over. That's another sign of a quality team – starting every half as if the score was even.
"We had hoped to turn it into a blood and guts game," said Kennedy. "They did it to us."
"Definitely we have been playing beyond our years," said Brey. "We do play like a mature, veteran group. We don't panic, we don't get flustered. That's our captains, they provide a lot of leadership."
Of course, with an average victory margin of 30 points per contest, there's not been much reason to be flustered. This Irish team has been simply outstanding and is on top of its game for what could be a special night Tuesday in Bloomington versus Indiana.
THE NOTEBOOK: Notre Dame's 1979-80 season-opening, seven-game winning streak featured victories over Valparaiso, Iowa State, Northwestern, St. Louis, UCLA (in South Bend), St. Joseph's (Indiana) and Fairfield. The Irish lost in game eight to Kentucky, and then fell in game nine at San Francisco. Indiana was not on the schedule that year as the rivalry was in the midst of a two-year respite…..Brey says "You probably have to go back a long way to find a week tougher than the one we are facing now," referring to the three-game road trip that continues at Indiana Tuesday and concludes next Saturday at Miami (Ohio). Suitably challenged, IrishEyes offers the following tough three-game trips: at No. 14 Kentucky, at No. 22 USC and at LaSalle, all within eight days, in 1991-92. John MacLeod's team went 2-1 in that stretch. Even tougher, try this 1989-90 trifecta. Vs. Lousiville at the Hoosier Dome, at Indiana and at Marquette over an eight-day stretch. Digger Phelps' team lost all three, but was rewarded for its strength of schedule at year-end, making the NCAA Tournament with a 16-12 mark……A sign of conditioning. Notre Dame has shot a better percentage from the field in the second-half of every game this season……DePaul has a long way to go before becoming a quality Conference USA college team. It shot 30-percent from the field, including a variety of lay-ups……Brey has said he'd like to come back to the United Center every other year, perhaps alternating years with Conseco Fieldhouse. With Thomas on the roster, it makes more sense to make a concerted effort to play at the latter.
(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at email@example.com.)