NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The word ‘electric' is often overused when it comes to describing crowds at sporting events, but it is the perfect term to illustrate the atmosphere at the Joyce Center on Saturday night during the Notre Dame-Connecticut game.
The students, many of which camped out at the Joyce for seats on Friday night, led the way with their energy, cheers and signs, but in the end the Huskies were too much and prevailed 69-61.
The soldout crowd was quieted momentarily when the Huskies opened the game with consecutive three-point buckets, but Kyle McAlarney added a pair of trifectas of his own and the intensity did not leave the arena until Kemba Walker's three-pointer gave the Huskies a 60-48 lead with three minutes to play.
"It was amazing. The fans were great, it was loud," said McAlarney. "I think the GameDay climate and everything like that helped our crowd and helped us a little bit. It's unfortunate we couldn't come out of here with a ‘W'"
The packed crowd was on the verge of exploding all night, but never got the chance as the Irish led only momentarily in the first minute of the second half before a Husky run gave them the lead for good and the Walker bucket clinched it.
But the air did not escape the Joyce easily. When the Irish trailed by 10 five minutes into the second half, the crowd helped bring them back in the game and Luke Harangody gave something back to the fans by acknowledging them after drawing a charge on UConn's Hasheem Thabeet.
"I thought the students were fantastic. You're not going to find a better atmosphere than tonight," said Harangody.
The atmosphere had to impress the many football and basketball recruits who were in town.
"The crowd made it an exciting event," Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun said. "When you walked into the building the electricity was noticeable."
STREAK SNAPPED: So Notre Dame's home winning streak stops at 45 and the Irish will go in the Big East record books tied with Pittsburgh with 20 straight conference wins in their building.
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey and Harangody admitted that while they never want to lose, the end of the streak does provide some relief.
"In a way, now we don't have to worry about it and we're going to try to go out there and win just one game," Harangody said.
It was obvious that McAlarney did not want the streak to end.
"This is our place, we had the record going and it hurts," he said. "It definitely hurts."
GODY WINS BATTLE, THABEET WINS WAR: Harangody outplayed Thabeet in the much-hyped matchup in the wake of comments made by the 7-foot-3 Husky.
Harangody finished the game with 24 points and 15 rebounds while Thabeet managed just nine points and 11 rebounds, although he was a force on defense, blocking five shots and adjusting several others.
Harangody's game has grown this season and that expansion was on display against Thabeet.
Harangody showed off his inside game and his outside game, combining strength inside with athletic reverse layups, a couple of hook shots, midrange jumpers and even a couple of three-balls for one of his most complete games of the season.
NO HELP FOR HARANGODY: While Harangody was his usual beast-like self, the rest of the team struggled. The rest of the starting five managed just 22 points combined.
After drilling his first three shots, all three-pointers, McAlarney missed his next 12 and never scored again as the Huskies tightened up the defense on him from behind the arc. McAlarney was forced to drive to the hoop and although he had many open lanes, he could not get his running floaters to drop in.
"That's unfortunate because I feel like maybe one or two of those shots go down, the whole climate of the game changes," said McAlarney.
Ryan Ayers also struggled from the field, missing nine of 10 shots and finishing with just two points. Ayers did not see anything that UConn did take him out of rhythm.
"I think it was just an off night for me," Ayers said. "They were in good position and we had some great looks and we just didn't knock them down tonight."
ROTATION: Brey did not go deeper on his bench than he has in recent games, sticking with his starting five and Luke Zeller and Jonathan Peoples as reserves for the most part, but the minutes were spread out in the first half.
Peoples played 10 minutes in the first half, while Zeller played eight. The minutes were tighter in the second half as Zeller played eight and Peoples just one.
"We were able to get ‘Gody a rest in the first half. I wanted to do that in the second half, but I'm in the same situation I was in the previous two games," Brey explained. "You're down six, you're down eight and not anybody else is scoring it's a little fragile. You get him a rest and all of a sudden you're down 14 and you don't have a shot at it."
LOOSE BALLS: Connecticut was whistled for just seven fouls against the Irish's 24 and the Huskies shot 30 free throws, 26 more than Notre Dame… In addition to the ESPN College GameDay crew and Dick Vitale who called the game for TV, ESPN was also represented by Erin Andrews, Bobby Knight and Howie Schwab, of Stump the Schwab, who served as Vitale's spotter… Also in attendance was Archbishop Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints…. Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick presented Digger Phelps with a plaque honoring the Notre Dame team that upset UCLA 71-70 and snapped the Bruins' 88-game winning streak in 1974.