Irish Fight Off Soul Stealers
After the first meeting between these two teams a few weeks ago, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said that Virginia "steals your soul." The Irish were embarrassed by their belief that they had failed to compete for 40 minutes. They came to Charlottesville determined to compete for 40 minutes, to leave with their souls in place.
After losing the first meeting by almost 30 in their own gym, Notre Dame remained within striking distance from opening tip to closing buzzer in the rematch. Thanks to Kyle Guy and De'Andre Hunter pumping in 20 points each for the second consecutive game, the Hoos were able to eke out a 60-54 win. Guy led all scorers with 22, followed closely by Hunter's 20. Nobody else was in double figures for Virginia.
A 4-0 run by T.J. Gibbs gave the visitors a 4-2 lead with 17:46 in the first half, a lead they held for almost four minutes before Guy hit his second basket of the game, a three from the left wing. The Cavaliers never trailed again. Another three by Guy and a three from Ty Jerome swiftly put the Hoos up by 7 and they appeared on their way to the easy victory expected by one-and-all. Gibbs and Notre Dame had other ideas. Gibbs hit a three, the Irish shut down Virginia's lackadaisacal offense with an active, modified 2-3 zone, then Gibbs drained another 3 to cut the Hoos lead to 1.
And thus was the pattern of the game established. Virginia would kick the lead up to 7-10 with a quick burst, then fumble around offensively for a stretch while Notre Dame's best players took turns hitting a couple of shots to get back inside one possession. First it was Gibbs, then it was D.J. Harvey, then John Mooney, with Nate Laszewski and Prentiss Hubb getting into the act.
Once Notre Dame got it down to a single possession game, however, either Guy or Hunter would hit a big shot to hold the Irish at bay. From Notre Dame's point of view, it must have been extremely frustrating. They were able to stay in the game, tantalizingly close, but never get over the hump.
While the Irish played like a team determined to leave the arena with its pride if nothing else, Virginia looked to be suffering from IALSS, the affliction known as "It's A Long Season Syndrome." Symptoms include intermittent loss of focus, periods of lethargy, impaired judgment, impatience and slight impairment of motor control leading to dropping things and having difficulty hitting a target.
Mike Brey's coaching staff prepared an excellent defensive game plan for Virginia. They came out in a 2-3 zone. They know that Virginia wants to work from the high post area, diagnose the zone then get it to the right spot. Tony Bennett said that when the Hoos passed into the high post, the Irish matched up. Following the Duke example, they left the ballhandler to work 1-on-1 against a defender while they guarded everyone else. The on-ball defender was emphasizing contain, which meant practically giving up the foul line jumper. The Cavaliers often took them up on it, with mixed results.
Late in the first half, and then a couple of times in the second, the Irish shifted from the zone into man-to-man, and when they did so, Virginia did not smoothly transition into a sound man-to-man attack. Late in the game, when the Irish then added in full-court pressure, the Hoos again transitioned poorly into the new attack. Brey's use of different defensive attacks kept Virginia mentally off balance, and the offense lapsed often into stagnation. But they would, in times of need, move the ball briskly, inspiring sharp player movement, and resulting in excellent shots. Guy and Hunter hit theirs, nobody else did.
Outside of those two, the Cavaliers did not play well. Hunter not only had to carry the water on offense; he had to go track down 10 rebounds, too. Hunter's double-double came right after Jerome produced one in Chapel Hill. Dredo bullied Irish freshman Dane Goodwin without remorse, and found space from deep three times. His repeated assaults got him to the line for 7 free throws, all in the second half.
Guy did what Guy always does: ran all over the court and hit shots. He had a "bonehead" turnover against the press late, but he hit his free throws when needed to seal the game. Guy went 4-4 - and Jerome 2-2 - in the last :30 of the game, as the Hoos recovered from a 50% first half to break the recent run of poor free throw shooting, hitting 12 of 13 in the second half.
Jerome's floor game was better than his box score, but he was a bit sporadic after two excellent games last week. He was 2-3 from the arc, but 0-6 from two-point range and committed 3 of Virginia's 8 turnovers.
Nobody else played well. Braxton Key was terrible and Mamadi Diakite tried to play hero offense and came up short. Kihei Clark got four great looks and banged them all off the rim. Jack Salt was a nonentity and Jay Huff played his way to a spot on the bench.
Virginia won because their two best players were the two best players on the court, and because they went back to being a good free throw shooting team.
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