Notre Dame’s 65-58 loss at home to Connecticut Saturday afternoon ended a 12-game win streak this season that began with a 78-68 victory over Brigham Young in the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic on Nov. 17 in Brooklyn, N.Y. It also snapped a 17-game home win streak for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame is now 46-2 in its last 48 home games, with both losses having been against the Huskies. Notre Dame is now 14-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big East before heading to New York Tuesday for a matchup against St. John's.
Senior forward Jack Cooley talks to BGI in the video interview above about how disappointing it was to see the winning spree end and experience his first loss in conference competition this year.
Though Notre Dame shot 42.9 percent from the field (27-for-53), it was the first time in six contests it had dropped below 50 percent. The Irish got the kind of penetration they were looking for against Connecticut, but watched countless attempts near the basket swirl around and ricochet off the cylinder.
The Huskies made 27 of 53 attempts from the field, finishing 50.9 percent on the night. It was the first time an Irish opponent shot over 50 percent this year. UConn also edged Notre Dame in points in the paint (32-30), points off turnovers (8-7), second-chance points (13-12) and points off the bench (6-5). A couple calls, particularly late in the game, that didn’t go head coach Mike Brey’s way ended in a 7-4 advantage at the free throw line for the Huskies.
Notre Dame junior guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant both played solid games Saturday, with point guard Atkins finishing with a team-high 18 points and four assists, and Grant notching 11 points and four assists. Brey, obviously biased, has said several times he believes the two to be the best backcourt in the country. The Huskies had something to say about that, with their own talented guard trio showing exactly how you close out a game.
Grant and Atkins combined for eight of Notre Dame’s 13 turnovers, and were shaky with the ball down the stretch. With under a minute to play, Grant lost possession that led to a pair of UConn free throws and a 62-58 lead. On Notre Dame’s next trip down the floor, Atkins nearly turned it over on the perimeter when double-teamed, managed to get the ball to Grant, who was blocked on a shot attempt. UConn’s Tyler Olander was fouled on the defensive rebound, missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Huskies stripped the ball away from Irish senior forward Jack Cooley for an easy bucket.
UConn guards Ryan Boatright (14 points and five assists) and Shabazz Napier (19 points and four assists) were poised when the game got tight, including four consecutive free throws made by Boatright in the last 64 seconds.
“Their guards played well — amazing — and they couldn’t miss,” Grant said. “Defensively, we’ve got to be able to stay in front of those quick guards. There are a lot of them in the Big East. We’ll get better at that. But we gave ourselves a chance to win.”
Even after Saturday’s loss, when the Huskies outrebounded Notre Dame 34-28, they’re second to last in the Big East in rebounding margin (negative-3.9). The Irish are fifth among conference schools at plus-6.2. Notre Dame senior forward Jack Cooley led the team with nine boards, one shy of his 11th double-double of the year. Napier, at 6-foot-1, managed to grab five defensive boards against the Irish.
“They were one of the worst rebounding teams in the Big East, so we thought that would be a big advantage for us,” Grant said.