Ayers Assumes Role

Notre Dame senior guard Ryan Ayers' ups and downs have mirrored the team's and, like the team, right now he's up. Head coach Mike Brey and Ayers talk about what it was like for him being in a midseason slump and how he got out of it.

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey believes in sticking with players even when they are struggling, especially guys that have proven that they are capable of doing it.

"Not burying them, that they can always come back around and do it," said Brey. of his beliefs "Over the long haul, when you come back to kids they'll deliver for you if they feel, ‘God, the guy has got my back and he still believes in me.'"

Notre Dame's system relies on players that can shoot from the outside and Brey resists any urge to tinker with their shots when they go cold.

"You recruit guys that can shoot the basketball, you've got to let them loose to do it. When a guy is not shooting it well, the last thing to do is to bring him in to watch tape of his shots," said Brey. "I feel it's something that they need to figure out on their own, they get in the gym a little bit and just get shots up.

"I'm a believer in the law of averages, that it comes back around. I think the key is just that they stay aggressive and keep shooting the basketball and that's my job, to not let them get shy or gun-shy because we need them hunting their shots."

But that approach is not always easy.

"We've had to ride out some stuff with it," Brey said. "I just think at the end of the day, guys are going to deliver for you."

Such was the case with Notre Dame's senior guard Ryan Ayers.

Many of Notre Dame's opponents this year have decided to let Luke Harangody get his while taking away Kyle McAlarney and forcing somebody else to fill the role of difference-maker. Ayers has never shied away from that role, although he knows he cannot do it alone.

"If that's the case, I'll definitely accept that role," he said. "It can't just be my responsibility, it's going to be everybody's responsibility, Zach (Hillesland), Tory (Jackson), myself, Luke Zeller, Jon Peoples coming off the bench."

But Ayers along with a number of the players that he mentioned struggled after a great start and, not coincidentally, Ayers' struggles mirrored those of the Irish.

While Harangody can always be counted on for a strong double-double and McAlarney has been relatively steady, it has been Ayers who seems to have the most to do with the success of the team. In the team's 10 losses, Ayers is averaging just 6.9 points, while putting up 12.4 in Notre Dame's 14 victories.

Ayers posted back-to-back career highs of 19 and 35 points in non-conference games against Furman and South Dakota. He entered Big East play after three straight games of scoring in double-figures and posted 14 in the league opener against DePaul.

But then his shot started to leave him and the Irish began to struggle. Ayers bottomed out in a loss to Connecticut, going 1-for-10 from the floor and 0-of-6 from three-point land.

As much as Brey wanted to prove his loyalty to Ayers, he felt the best thing for him would be to come off the bench. The move did not pay off right away as Ayers' struggles continued in a loss to Marquette when he missed all seven of his field goal attempts.

"The worst thing about it was the fact that we were losing," Ayers said. "I didn't feel like I played well to help my team and put them in a position to win."

But Ayers scored 10 points coming off the bench against Pittsburgh before converting six of seven field goal attempts and putting in 14 against Cincinnati.

"I felt like I got back on a roll when we played Pitt," he said. "I knew it was going to come back."

Ayers returned to the starting lineup against UCLA, although he and the rest of the team struggled again, but his 19 points against Louisville were a big part of the Irish snapping their seven-game losing streak. He followed that up with a 12-point performance in Sunday's win over South Florida.

While the Irish have benefited from the return of Ayers' outside stroke, his play on the other end has been just as important.

"Not only did he score the ball, he drew Terrence Williams and Dominique Jones, two prolific three-men, perimeter guys and I thought he really had a great all-around game, defending those guys and scoring the basketball," said Brey.

Ayers welcomes the challenge of guarding opposing team's top perimeter threat, but does not see any correlation between his play on defense and on offense.

"I just take pride in that defensive assignment to control their main guy on the perimeter who that may be," he said. "But my defense doesn't really have any affect on my offense."

Back-to-back wins have the Irish talking about making the rest of the season ‘interesting.' If they don't continue to get contributions from Ayers, the final six regular games may not be all that exciting.

"Ryan Ayers being confident in shooting the ball and screening for him and hunting his shot like we did the last two games, it really helps us," Brey said. "It's important to us."

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