UConn the Class, Irish Schooled

The pages of Notre Dame's storybook basketball season are starting to fray. The Irish are now 1-4 against ranked teams in calendar year 2003 after a thorough home whipping to Connecticut. Mike Brey's team finds itself this morning in third place in the Big East's West Division and a shoddy defensive effort is to blame. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli reports courtside from the Joyce Center.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

January 14, 2003

UConn Reminds Irish
Who's Boss in Big East

By Alan Tieuli
 IrishEyes Magazine

NOTRE DAME, IN (IE) – If ESPN had sent Lee Corso to the Joyce Center last night  to provide commentary instead of Jay Bilas or Bill Raftery, the analyst likely would have unleashed his trademark line "Not so fast, my friend." 

There were so many practical applications.  That Notre Dame unbeaten season at home?  No so fast, my friend.  That first-place finish in the West Division of the Big East?  That bye in the Big East Tournament?  Not so fast, my friend. 

And, the most dangerous of all, perhaps Notre Dame's standing among the nation's college basketball elite would have been questioned.  After the Irish were thoroughly beaten by No. 24 Connecticut, 87-79, at the sold-out Joyce Center, one wonders if this team played its best ball in December. 

The No. 10 Irish still boast an outstanding 21-6 overall record, but in 2003 they have only beaten one team (Pittsburgh) that is a sure bet to make the NCAA Tournament.  It is now 1-4 against ranked teams this calendar year, allowing a horrific 82.5 points per game in the losses. 

"No question," said senior guard Matt Carroll, "that type of defense is unacceptable.  We should be humbled."

Notre Dame is now 9-4 in the West Division, one-half game behind leaders Syracuse and Pittsburgh, but a game behind in the loss column.  The Irish are also tied in the loss column with Seton Hall meaning the Irish very well may end up with a lower standing in their division than they get for a seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

"The Big East Conference is just very, very tough," said senior forward Dan Miller. "There's no way Connecticut is only a No. 24 team and we certainly had to play better than we did to compete." 

Connecticut, 18-6 overall, 9-4 in the East Division, was the Big East's signature program of the 1990's and is showing no signs of slowing up.  Head coach Jim Calhoun is fighting off prostrate cancer and his Huskies haven't lost a step despite the departure of Big East Player of the Year Caron Butler.   The Huskies are young, with four freshmen and two sophomores in their eight-player rotation, but this game showed they can be special.  No matter who wears the blue, white and red uniform, the Huskies have swagger.

Sophomore guard Ben Gordon had 25 points and eight assists, outperforming a game but emotionally and physically ragged Chris Thomas (19 points, nine assists).  Sophomore center Emeka Okafor had 19 points, 10 rebounds and demoralized the Irish with six blocked shots.  Freshman swingman Rashard Anderson came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points in 20 minutes, including six-of-nine from three-point range. 

"They have everything, especially with coach Calhoun back," said Thomas. "I don't care what the rankings say, they are one of the top teams in (the conference).  I want them to win out and for us to win out and face each other in the final of the Big East." 

Notre Dame's 16-game home winning streak was snapped on a night when the Irish surrendered as many first-half points than in any other game in the three-year head coaching era of Mike Brey.  The Irish trailed 46-31 at the break and the play was so lopsided that Brey admitted later, "I was glad we were just down 15." 

"We got out OK (up 15-8 in five minutes), but then they started hitting everything," said Carroll.  "It seemed like every time we would score one basket, they would come down and score two." 

The impact was made by the freshman Anderson, a Lakeland, Florida product who drilled five three-pointers in the opening stanza, keying a 13-minute, 32-10 Connecticut run that put the Huskies ahead for good.   Anderson came in averaging just under eight points per game and had made just six-of-22 shots his last three efforts. 

"He shot the ball Kyle Korver-like," said Brey, referring to the Creighton assassin who shot down the Irish on Nov. 26. 

Notre Dame's first-half hole was also dug by an undisciplined Thomas, who drew a technical foul for extensively arguing a non-call on a drive to the basket.  At the time of the technical, it was 30-23 UConn.  Brey sat the point guard for 4:46 and the Huskies' lead extended to 12. 

"He's growing up as a young guard in our league.  That's a tough call to make when you jump in and initiate the contact," said Brey. "From my angle, I didn't think he was going to get the call.  He needs to lea

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