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Who's Boss in Big East
By Alan Tieuli
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
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
"The Big East Conference is just very, very tough," said
senior forward Dan Miller. "There's
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.
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
"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
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