Notre Dame may be playing them too close for comfort, but as tough as victories come in the Big East, the Irish will take them any way they can get them.
The Irish got a Luke Harangody free throw with 1.9 seconds left to defeat South Florida by a point on the road, then came home against No. 8 West Virginia, built a big lead ... then held their breath as Da'Sean Butler's 3-point shot bounced around and off at the buzzer to win by two points.
"I think we have a pretty mentally tough group, a poised group," Coach Mike Brey said. "Both nights, you could panic a little bit and wonder."
What you couldn't do was put either game in the loss column.
Both games could have come apart for Notre Dame -- they might have last year when the season crumbled.
But, both times, the Irish had just enough, surviving under pressure.
"The Notre Dame teams of the past might have thrown it in and said, 'Too bad we didn't get this one,'" Harangody told the South Bend Tribune after the South Florida victory in which he scored 36 points. "But we just kept going."
--Coach Mike Brey sort of let the cat out of the bag when he revealed during a conference call before the WVU game that he had been told by then-athletic director Mike White several years ago to prepare to move to the Big Ten in the aftermath of the defection of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College to the ACC.
"Four or five years ago we had a meeting and he told me to be prepared, we're going to the Big Ten," Brey said. "It changed at the midnight hour, but he was preparing me for that."
--As Notre Dame built a 25-4 lead over West Virginia in what would be a 70-68 heart-stopper, the Irish played basketball the way it is meant to be played. They spread the wealth -- F Luke Harangody had only four points in that early run -- and every basket came with an assist.
--F Luke Harangody has moved into second place on the Notre Dame career list behind Austin Carr.
--When Notre Dame won at South Florida by a point it was the first time the Irish had scored a one-point road victory since beating Providence, 62-61, on Feb. 19, 2005. Jordan Cornette saved that victory by blocking a Ryan Gomes shot at the buzzer.
ON THE SPOT: Lacking depth and playing only seven deep, Notre Dame's starting five is going to have perform one of those "iron man" feats that are difficult to do in the Big East, playing rough, physical basketball for 30-plus minutes a game in order to continue to compete at the highest level.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "My hand was so close to him he could smell what I ate." -- Notre Dame G Tory Jackson, on the way he put a hand in the face of West Virginia shooter Da'Sean Butler's face as he missed a last-second 3-pointer in the Irish's 70-68 upset of the nation's No. 8 team.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: At the end of the season, no one asks how you won games, just whether or not you did. The fact that the Irish survived a pair close calls at South Florida and at home against a ranked West Virginia team will work for them at the end of the season when it comes time for NCAA seeding. It has been a season of learning to play with each other and of F Luke Harangody expanding his game. It appears Notre Dame is capable of being a good team if it doesn't wear down as the season goes on.
Connecticut 82, Notre Dame 70
Notre Dame 74, South Florida 73
Notre Dame 70, West Virginia 68
IN FOCUS: With things breaking the Irish's way, they face a crucial point in the schedule as they travel to Cincinnati, then entertain a talented Syracuse team at home over a three-day span. Having already dropped a game to Connecticut, these become important games as the Irish could use a road win at Cincinnati. If they could stun Syracuse, they could probably push themselves into a nice spot in the rankings.
--Junior F Carleton Scott has taken an "indefinite leave of absence" from the program that is said to have nothing to do with academics or a violation of team rules. He was averaging 2.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in 14.8 minutes a game.
--With a short bench, Notre Dame has not used G Joey Brooks to play in Carleton Scott's place. Brooks went in against West Virginia and scored five points in nine minutes of playing time.