Irish rally comes up short as 12-game winning streak ends
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or email@example.com January 12, 2013 11:22PM
SOUTH BEND, IN - JANUARY 12: Jerian Grant #22 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Ryan Boatright #11 of the Connecticut Huskies chase down a loose ball at Purcel Pavilion on January 12, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. Connecticut defeated Notre Dame 65-58. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Updated: February 14, 2013 7:02AM
SOUTH BEND — The short little bank shot by Eric Atkins with 1:13 left after he got a Connecticut defender on his hip, tying the game for Notre Dame, looked like the turning point of a late Irish rally against Connecticut.
Atkins had scored five straight and awakened a dormant, slightly drowsy crowd with a 3-pointer on the previous possession.
This seemed like a classic case of Notre Dame figuring it out at the end, like the Irish have so many times before, in a place, Purcell Pavilion, that fits like their favorite easy chair.
But the moment turned out to be a mirage for the Irish, who didn’t score a point after Atkins’ jumper in a 65-58 loss to the Huskies on Saturday.
Connecticut, a team that can’t go the NCAA Tournament this year because its Academic Performance Rating (APR) was too low, caused enough discomfort on defense at just the right times to break the Purcell mystique for visitors. The loss broke a 17-game winning streak at Purcell and a 12-game winning streak overall for Notre Dame.
It was a disappointing, but not entirely unexpected, loss for the Irish, who were off-kilter offensively almost the whole afternoon after hitting 7-of-10 at the start. Connecticut has the kind of burly team with lockdown guards that matches up well against Notre Dame.
Tyler Oleander, a 6-9 junior, finished with a career-high 16 points while Shabazz Napier, a 6-1 junior guard, finished with 19 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“We had great opportunities,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said, “but it never felt good in there. The vibe was different. It was going to have to be a flat out theft.”
The heist never materialized in the final minutes, partially because Jerian Grant couldn’t do what he, Atkins and his teammates were able to do early in the game.
Score or at least get to the free throw line off the drive.
Grant turned the ball over once trying to pile drive into the middle of the lane and he missed a layup another time.
In both instances, he looked longingly toward the official for a whistle. None were forthcoming.
“I attacked the basket, “Grant said. “Of course, I thought I got fouled. The ref never called it. You just have to keep playing.”
Connecticut shut down Notre Dame’s offense after a slow start by moving from a “level three” defense to “level five”, according to UConn coach Kevin Ollie.
That meant extending pressure on the guards to just inside the half-court line, using its big men to help and creating havoc in the lane for the Irish guards.
Brey said the team has to reevaluate its crashing the basket strategy and think about stepping back and taking some jumpers.
“We were never in rhythm,” Brey said. “We felt like we could drive it more and get some fouls called. We forced some stuff.”
Notre Dame doesn’t have much time to recover. The Irish travel to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday to play St. John’s, a team they lost to last year at MSG.