College Hoops Tuesday Recap: Irish Hold off Connecticut

January 5th, 2011
Notre Dame knew that they had to make Kemba Walker work for his points if they were going to beat Connecticut on Tuesday. And thanks in large part to Ben Hansbrough, who also scored 21 points they were able to do just that in beating the Huskies 73-70 to move to 2-1 in Big East play. Walker scored 19 points but had to attempt 23 field goals to do that, making just eight while outside of Shabazz Napier (4-6 FG, 18 points) and Roscoe Smith (11 points) his teammates struggled offensively. By comparison the Irish finished with four players in double figures (Tim Abromaitis scored 19) and Eric Atkins, inserted into the starting lineup in place of the injured Carleton Scott, added five assists to no turnovers. Before Big East play opened Notre Dame was staring at a three-game stretch few would envy, but defending their home floor in wins over Georgetown and UConn has them is a good position going forward.

"We have a mentally and physically tough group," remarked head coach Mike Brey after the game. "We weren't as tough in the paint as we needed to be in the Carrier Dome and we really took the time to talk about that. They really wanted to make up for that tonight by playing great defense."

Notre Dame out-rebounded Connecticut 36-33 just three days after that lackluster showing at Syracuse, and they assisted on 15 of their 23 made field goals as well. As for Connecticut the recent play of sophomore forward Alex Oriakhi has to be a concern going forward, beginning with their game at Texas on Saturday. In 23 minutes last night Oriakhi managed six rebound and five fouls (no reason to ask about scoring as he failed to tally a single point), and he was only slightly more effective in UConn's loss at Pittsburgh last week. While his play of late can get UConn past the likes of USF (14 points in that overtime win on New Year's Eve) it's not going to cut it against the upper echelon of the Big East and it will likely earn them a loss in Austin as well if he's not at his best. Being their most talented interior player Oriakhi has to carry the load in the paint, and it become painfully obvious when he doesn't.

"They physically handled us getting over screens," said head coach Jim 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." (quotes courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics)

Other Notable Happenings

1. Minnesota navigates personnel issues to beat Indiana.
It's been an ongoing process for Tubby Smith to figure out his rotation this season, with the latest blow being the decision of Devoe Joseph to leave the program. But they were able to hold off a rallying Indiana squad last night to pick up their first conference victory by the final score of 67-63. Blake Hoffarber led four starters in double figures with 16 points while the Golden Gophers out-rebounded the Hoosiers 39-26 (Trevor Mbakwe grabbed 16). Victor Oladipo and Verdell Jones III scored 13 points apiece for Tom Crean's club, but the cumulative effect of shooting just 37.7% from the field was too much to overcome despite having a chance to tie the game late in regulation. How much of an issue could the loss of Joseph be? Although the junior was third on the team in scoring he was out the first six games due to suspension, and after playing well against Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener he struggled against Michigan State. It would be good to have that extra scoring option on the perimeter but if he doesn't feel that Minnesota is the best place for him then it's better off that he make the move.

2. Missouri State and Wichita State win to remain atop the Missouri Valley.
The preseason favorite Shockers did what they were supposed to do last night, with J.T. Durley leading five players in double figures with 13 points in an 82-63 win over Drake. Blessed with depth at essentially every position on the floor, Gregg Marshall's team finished a plus-11 on the boards and made 20 of 24 foul shots. Wichita State has a game at Illinois State before meeting Missouri State, who remains tied with WSU atop the Missouri Valley thanks to a 67-55 win at Creighton. The Bears, who picked up their second road win in three league games thus far, limited preseason Player of the Year Kenny Lawson Jr. to 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting. As a team the Blue Jays shot 39.2% from the field and 5-for-20 from deep, running into a team that Cuonzo Martin has rounded into arguably the best defensive team in the MVC. This all could come to a head on Sunday night in Wichita, provided both teams take care of business on Friday night.

3. Texas blows out Arkansas and has the definite look of a Big 12 contender.
While much has been made about the sad nature of the SEC West this season, one can't help but be impressed with what Rick Barnes' Longhorns did to Arkansas in Austin. Jordan Hamilton led four players in double figures with 16 points while Jai Lucas added 13 off the bench in a decisive 79-46 win ahead of their matchup with Connecticut on Saturday. Texas defensively limited the Razorbacks to 34.7% shooting from the field and forced 23 turnovers, taking control of the game in the first half and simply tightening their hold as the game wore on to notch the largest margin of victory in the 153-game history of the series. Hamilton's improvement has been documented many times over, as has that of players such as Gary Johnson, Corey Joseph and Tristan Thompson. But if they can get consistent production off the bench from a Jai Lucas or J'Covan Brown look out for the Longhorns.

Top Three Games

1. (5) Pittsburgh 83, Providence 79 The Panthers were able to survive on the road, even with Brad Wanamaker fouling out late in their victory over the Friars. Travon Woodall knocked down a huge three while Gary McGhee controlled the boards, and Gilbert Brown led the Panthers in scoring with 19. Marshon Brooks, arguably the most improved player in the Big East, led the Friars with 28 points and six rebounds.

2. (15) Notre Dame 73, (9) Connecticut 70

3. Prairie View A&M 68, Alcorn State 66 (OT) In one of three games in the SWAC to go to overtime Trant Simpson scored a game-high 22 points to lead the Panthers to a road victory in the league opener for both. Marquise Baker led the Braves with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Three Notable Performances

1. G Mike James (Lamar) James took full advantage of his 28 minutes off the bench, hoisting 35 field goal attempts (making 18; 11-21 3PT) on his way to a school-record 52 points in the Cardinals' 114-62 win over Louisiana College.

2. G LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor) 13-22 from the field (10-18 3PT), scoring 43 points in the Bears' 89-72 win over Morgan State.

3. F Melsahn Basabe (Iowa) 22 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks in the Hawkeyes' 73-68 loss to (2) Ohio State.

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