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Notre Dame’s ‘Imperfect 10’

Louisville’s thrilling 82-76 victory against Michigan in Monday night’s NCAA Tournament championship game gave the Notre Dame men’s basketball program a bittersweet distinction.

Digger Phelps, shown with Adrian Dantley, saw four of his Notre Dame teams defeat the eventual national champion.

It marked the 10th time that the Fighting Irish had defeated that year’s national champion during the regular season.

On Feb. 9, Notre Dame needed an out-of-body shooting experience by junior guard Jerian Grant in the closing seconds of regulation, and then five pulsating overtimes, to defeat head coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals, 104-101.

That conquest embodied what the program has been for most of the last 65 years: Competitive during the regular season but disappointing in NCAA Tournament action, where it has a proclivity to falter, especially against lower-ranked or lower-seeded teams in the early rounds.

Here are the 10 victories in chronological order:

1. Notre Dame 64, Kentucky 55 (Feb. 2, 1948)
On head coach Ed “Moose” Krause’s 35th birthday, the Irish won their 38th straight game in The Fieldhouse on the strength of Kevin O’Shea’s 25 points. The Wildcats would finish 36-3 under head coach Adolph Rupp — who was 0-6 all time in The Fieldhouse — and also win the gold medal as the United States representative in the 1948 Summer Olympics.

2. Notre Dame 71, Indiana 70 (Dec. 6, 1952)
Irish guard Jack Stephens’ “Danny Ainge-like” full-court drive and layup in the closing seconds led to the upset of the Hoosiers, who would finish 23-3 and win their second national title under coach Branch McCracken.

3. Notre Dame 89, UCLA 82 (Jan. 23, 1971)
Austin Carr’s 46 points led to the Bruins’ lone defeat that season. The UCLA standouts included Curtis Rowe, Sidney Wicks and Henry Bibby, which led to the famous Notre Dame student body banner for this game: “Rowe, Rowe, Rowe Your Wicks, Gently Up The Bibby.”

4. Notre Dame 84, UCLA 78 (Jan. 25, 1975)
Sophomore Adrian Dantley scored 32 points the year after the Irish had ended the Bruins’ record 88-game winning streak. Two months later, UCLA head coach John Wooden would retire after winning his 10th national title in 12 years.

5. Notre Dame 68, Indiana 64 (Dec. 9, 1980)
This wasn’t an “upset” because the Irish featured future NBA stars such as Kelly Tripucka, Orlando Woolridge, John Paxson and Joe Kleine, but there was no team better at the end of the year than head coach Bob Knight’s Hoosiers, who were led by sophomore point guard Isiah Thomas.

6. Notre Dame 43, North Carolina State 42 (Feb. 12, 1983)
This loss at home (minus injured star guard Dereck Whittenburg) in Reynolds Coliseum dropped Wolfpack head coach Jim Valvano’s legendary “Survive and Advance” team to 13-8 en route to a 17-10 finish and a long shot to even receive an NCAA Tournament bid.

7. Notre Dame 80, Kansas 76 (Jan. 23, 1988)
Guard David Rivers scored 29 points and handed out seven assists in this Irish win — the first of Kansas’ four straight losses to drop to 12-8 under head coach Larry Brown and All-American Danny Manning. Yet “Danny & The Miracles” would go on to win the national title with 11 losses.

8. Notre Dame 80, Connecticut 74(Feb. 9, 2004)
The struggling 10-9 Notre Dame team that would not make the NCAA Tournament was led by guard Chris Thomas’ 31 points that included 6-of-10 shooting from three-point range. Center Emeka Okafor tallied 24 points for the Huskies, while guard Ben Gordon added 22.

9. Notre Dame 73, Connecticut 70 (Jan. 4, 2011) & Notre Dame 70, Connecticut 67 (March 5, 2011)
The Irish swept the regular-season series against the team that would finish 9-9 and in ninth place in the Big East. Notre Dame’s win in the regular-season finale was the last defeat that year for the Kemba Walker-led Huskies.

10. Notre Dame 104, Louisville 101, five overtimes (Feb. 9, 2013)
Trailing 56-48 with 51 seconds left, Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant scored 12 points in a span of 29 seconds — three treys plus a basket-and-one — to put the game into the first of five overtimes. Reserve Irish center Garrick Sherman didn’t enter the game until after regulation time, but still finished with 17 points.

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