Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dear Diary...Notre Dame-UCLA

Ladies and Gents, it’s time for the first basketball running diary of the year! Today the Fighting Irish take on the UCLA Bruins. This diary comes to you live from McLean, VA where we are totally snowed in by about 17 inches of snow.

This will be my first time seeing the Irish this year so I’ll be curious as to how they look. The Bruins limp in at 2-6 with some pretty brutal losses—including a 74-47 beatdown at the hands of…Portland?!?—so I’m hoping our boys can jump on them early and cruise.

Let’s fire it up!

2:04 Purcell Pavilion looks great. I’m totally thrown off now that the students are apparently on the other end of the court and the benches have been switched (ND on the left, visitors on the right). Also, when and why did Tory decide to switch numbers?

2:06 Good bucket on a drive by Hansbrough. The scouting report on him is that he’s a slasher who is capable of getting to the hoop and finishing. Good to see it right away.

2:08 Hansbrough hits a three after a great hustle play by Abromaitis. I have a feeling I’m going to really like Abromaitis.

2:08 Harangody has already missed a three and another deep two while giving up two buckets inside on defense. I’m terrified of him falling in love with the three; we need him to be pounding it inside. It’s 9-5 UCLA three minutes in, not the ideal start.

2:11 Ben Hansbrough with the three AND HE’S FOULED. Well, somebody came to play today. We head into the first TV timeout at the 15:26 mark with the Irish down 11-8 and Ben heading to the line with a chance to complete a four point play. My initial impression is it’s the same ol’ same ol’ for the Irish. Defensively we look borderline indifferent. On the plus side, you have to be impressed with Hansbrough’s effort and production.

2:17 Harangody clangs another three. He’s currently taken zero shots inside of 15 feet. Jiminy Flipping Christmas Luke, GET IN THE POST AND DO SOME WORK.

2:20 We head into the second TV timeout down by five. UCLA is shooting over 60% from the field, due mostly to wide open or relatively uncontested looks at the basket. This year’s Irish outfit does not have the firepower to get into shootouts and hope to outscore people even against sub-par teams (see: Loyola Marymount), there needs to be SOME sort of emphasis on defense and getting stops. I know Brey’s philosophy is sacrifice defense for offense but that’s just not going to work this year, he needs to find a way to adjust or it’s going to be a long, long conference season.

2:25 Jonathan Peoples with a pair of buckets coming off the bench, both inside the paint! After UCLA scores he gets down the floor and gets fouled. After making both it’s six straight points for #20—People’s Court is clearly in session.

2:28 We’re at the 8 minute TV timeout mark and there’s not much good news to report. Abromaitis has gotten to the hoop a couple times but hasn’t converted, Jackson has taken his guy off the dribble a couple times but has come up empty-handed as well. We’ve yet to get Harangody one look inside, which is absolutely inexcusable. We should be doing that every single possession.

2:32 Harangody scores a bucket off a great inbound play drawn up by Brey. I’ve never seen us run that one before, or if we have it’s certainly never worked that well. Irish cut it to four.

2:34 Tory snipes a long three to put the Irish out in front 27-26 and Ben Howland needs a timeout. ND is on a 7-0 run spurred by what? DEFENSE! First, Nash drew a charge then we came up with a strip that led to a fast break and Tory’s eventual three. Turn up the pressure and we blow UCLA out of the building boys.

2:36 Harangody scores back-to-back buckets in the paint. He’s 3 for 4 inside 10 feet, 0 for 5 outside…this trend should be noted Luke.

2:38 We’re under the four minute mark. Harangody is beginning to exert his will inside which isn’t surprising. I know he wants to improve his outside shot in preparation for going pro, but when he jacks up six or seven deep shots a game it doesn’t help this team especially when he can clearly do whatever he wants in the paint.

2:42 PARTY PEOPLESSSSSS FOR THREE FROM THE CORNER! He’s well on his way to his best game ever.

2:48 The Irish close the half out up four, 40-36. UCLA is shooting the ball well while the Irish are controlling the boards (9-1 on the offensive side of the ball).

3:06 Second half starts with me being bitter that they didn’t show what Brian Kelly had to say to the crowd at halftime.

3:07 BEN HANSBROUGH FROM KYLE MCALARNEY LAND FOR THREE. The Irish kick off the second half on a 8-3 run in the first two minutes spurred by some great shooting on open looks. Then again, I don’t think there was a person in the building who expected Hansbrough to unload from 30 feet away. He was actually standing on the mid-court shamrock. Come on, let’s BURY these guys.

3:08 Sidenote: do you think K-Mac would’ve made a point of knocking down a shot from each part of the huge clover over the course of the season had he been on the team this year? My guess is yes.

3:10 They showed a snippet of what Brian Kelly had to say to the crowd at halftime. I’m fist-pumping in my living room.

3:15 We’re at the first TV timeout and the Irish have a nine point advantage. Good start in extending the lead; it’s time to step on the gas.

3:21 Starting to blow the game open now. We’re up 11 with 13 minutes left. UCLA has knocked down a couple threes to keep it reasonable but we’re really starting to dominate inside. That’s going to start opening up looks for our shooters. As a side note, I’m really impressed with Hansbrough’s passing. He’s got surprisingly fantastic vision. Now let’s see if the Irish can step on their throat and put it away early.

3:28 Annnnnd here come the Bruins. UCLA’s three point barrage cuts it down to a six point Irish lead. This isn’t something that’s unique to this year’s squad—in the past when we’ve gotten a big lead it’s almost like we forget to lock down on defense and the opponent gradually crawls back in to the game.

3:30 Abromaitis with a nice little three point play to push the lead back up to nine. If this is the first time fans are seeing Abromaitis they have to be pleased with his game. He’s got an incredibly calm demeanor. As I type that he snipes another three. He’s got 13 points this half (15 overall) and is 3 of 4 from behind the arc.

3:37 Alright, we’ve got a ten point lead with 7:41 left in the game. UCLA is 4 of 6 from three point range this half and that’s the only way they’re even within shouting distance. We have to put the clamps down on defense and this game is over (this is a constant theme in case you haven’t figured this out by now).

3:40 Tory knocks down a deep three as the shot clock is winding down to put the Irish up by 13 with under five minutes to play. That could be a back-breaker right there. That was a very methodical possession for the Irish, just squeezing the life out of the Bruins.

3:48 PHENOMENAL defensive play by Hansbrough on a UCLA fast break starts it the other way where Harangody finishes. Great hands there by the Hanbrough that doesn’t look like a muppet.

3:49 Nash misses a shot in the lane but gets his own rebound, kicks it out, and the offense resets. That’s just so deflating for a team to defend well as the shot clock winds down, force a bad shot, and then watch the opponent snatch an offensive rebound to start the process all over again.

3:51 UCLA gets a couple quick baskets to cut it all the way down to 6 but a quick fast break started by Nash gets Harangody a wide open dunk. That was a very heady play to be looking up as opposed to just getting it back to a guard. Nice job cherry-picking there by Luke. Was that a back-handed compliment? Maybe.

3:57 Down the stretch the Irish have been great knocking down their free throws as UCLA begins to foul—specifically Harangody has been on the money. It’s so nice to have a big man who is usually automatic from the stripe.

4:00 Game over. The Irish prevail 84-73.

Some quick hits on the game:
1. Coach Brey needs to remind Harangody why he’s a preseason All-American. It’s not because of his three-point shooting, it’s because he can dominate games inside on the offense end.

2. Tim Abromaitis was the most pleasant surprise through the first month of the season and now seeing him in person you can understand why. He’s a great threat from outside, he can mix it up inside, and he has the perfect demeanor for the big time college basketball. He just comes across as an incredibly calm and confident guy. I can see him knocking down shots late in the game without batting an eye.

3. I really like Ben Hansbrough’s game. He’s not a superstar and I don’t think he has the ability to somehow morph into one, but he’s a very smart, scrappy player who can make a significant contribution over the next two years. He’s a streaky shooter who can knock down the open three and I was very surprised about how good a passer he is. He’s a bit like Colin Falls was except more athletic and not as good a shooter.

4. Defense, Defense, Defense. We will be eaten alive by the upper level teams in the Big East if we don’t find a way to improve our defense. There were times today where we really buckled down but there are far too many lapses for three and four possession stretches. This was not a good UCLA team and they managed to shoot 49% from the floor and 50% behind the arc. It wasn’t like they were knocking down circus shots either, most of the time they got open looks. I don’t know if it’s realistic to think the team can suddenly become a consistent defensive team, but some sort of adjustment needs to be made.

5. I have such high hopes for Carleton Scott, but he didn’t have much of an opportunity to do anything today. I really hope Brey doesn’t bury him on the bench during Big East play. With how thin we are I don’t think Coach will have a choice, but it still bares mentioning.

Overall, a good win for the Irish today. It wasn’t a dominating performance by any stretch and I was probably hyper-critical just because it was my first time seeing them this year, but we had great balance on the scoresheet (all five starters were in double figures) and cleaned up on the boards (35-24 overall and 12-7 on offensive rebounds). It’s definitely a performance the team can build on.

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