Wednesday, January 05, 2011


The highlight of Tuesday night's Big East schedule was a Top-15 battle in South Bend (IN) between Notre Dame and Connecticut. Jim Calhoun's club opened the scoring with a three-pointer by freshman Jeremy Lamb to take a 3-0 lead. However, the Irish would run off 13 consecutive points to take a 13-3 lead, a lead they would never give up.

"I thought we did an incredibly poor job opening the game, allowing three-point shots to get them into a rhythm," Calhoun said following the game.

Tim Abromaitis started the barrage with a three to make the score 7-3 and then Scott Martin connected on a pair of three's just 30 seconds a part to punctuate the run and put the Irish ahead by 10 just 3:31 into the game.

Connecticut was forced to play catch-up all night and twice cut the Irish lead to two points in the first half, but each time the Irish would respond and add a little more cushion. The half ended with another Abromaitis three-pointer to give the Golden Domers a 38-30 halftime lead.

The Irish, not a particularly deep team under Mike Brey, were shorthanded as starting forward Carleton Scott was out with a hamstring injury. Scott is the team's third leading scorer, second leading rebounder and leader in blocked shots, but the Irish stepped up physically in the challenge against the Huskies.

"They physically handled us getting over screens," said Calhoun. "They physically handled us during rebounds. They pushed and bumped us. We all know this is a very physical league and they did a nice job with it. I think this is the most physical defensive team Mike (Brey) has had and obviously offensively they did a great job."

Notre Dame won the battle of the boards with a 36-33 rebounding edge. Starting in place of Scott was freshman Eric Atkins, a point guard out of Baltimore (MD). Atkins scored just seven points, but he directed the offense and contributed five assists without a turnover, drawing the praise from the Hall of Fame coach on the other sideline.

"I thought that Notre Dame did a great job, especially with (Carleton) Scott out and (Eric) Atkins played well against a pressure defense," said Calhoun.

The Huskies started out the second half with a 9-2 run, capped off by a pair of Kemba Walker buckets, and suddenly drew within a point of the Irish. The Irish had the answer each time, however, and kept their lead throughout and their own 9-2 run pushed their lead to 11, 64-53, with 5:31 left after a Ben Hansbrough steal and lay-up.

Hansbrough scored five of his game-high 21 points in that run and took on the challenge of defending Walker, the leading scorer in the BIG EAST. Walker scored 19 in the contest, but took 23 shots in doing so. His streak of 11 consecutive games of scoring more than 20 points was ended by the Irish and Hansbrough.

"I told Ben Hansbrough that it was a heck of a workout to guard Walker and then score 21 points while making key plays," Mike Brey said after the game. "Ben has been a man, but tonight he was the ultimate man on both ends of the floor."

Still, the young Huskies would not go away. Freshman Shabazz Napier hit a clutch three, sophomore Jamal Coombs-McDaniel also connected on a three-pointer and, of course, Walker made clutch plays as well. A pair of Walker free-throws with 22 seconds left brought UConn to within two at 70-68.

Abromaitis would make one of two foul shots and after a Walker miss on a three-pointer, Tyrone Nash would connect on a pair from the charity stripe for a 73-68 lead. Napier would draw UConn back to within a possession with a pair of foul shots of his own and the Huskies had new life after Abromaitis missed a pair of free throws with nine seconds left. The forward was an 87% shooter from the line a year ago but is now just seven of 14 on the season.

Connecticut was unable to make Notre Dame pay for their failure to put the game away as a long three-point attempt to tie by Napier missed badly.

"We are a young team, but I also thought they did what they needed to do to win," said Calhoun. "I thought we tried to tire them out and it did show up in their missed free throws. We still had a chance to win right down until the last nine seconds when we came down the court and didn't see Kemba (Walker) wide open."

Napier finished with 18 points and freshman Roscoe Smith added 11 in support of Walker's 19 for the Huskies. Another area of missing production for UConn was in the post as Alex Oriakhi was held scoreless before fouling out in 23 minutes of action and starting power forward Charles Okwandu added just two points.

UConn, which falls to 1-2 in the Big East, now must step out of conference and visit Texas on Saturday for a marquee non-conference match-up. The Longhorns are ranked No. 12 in the country and playing very well right now. The Huskies are 4-2 all-time against the Longhorns after defeating then-top ranked Texas 88-74 at Gampel Pavilion last season.


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