Watch Notre Dame play enough college basketball games over the last 23 winters and the first few minutes often offer a sense of how the script will go.
If the Irish are moving the ball effortlessly and making shots easily, it’s going to be an interesting evening. Ditto on the defensive end. When Notre Dame holds teams, even the crazy athletic ones it sees in the Atlantic Coast Conference, to one and done and rebound as one, they’re going to be right there.
But when nothing works on either end early, you get the (sinking) feeling that Notre Dame will get worked in the way it was Tuesday, a 69-57 loss to Louisville at KFC Yum! Center. A second straight league loss dropped the Irish to 9-12 overall, 6-9 in the league. Twenty minutes away a game ago from possibly hitting the break-even point in both areas, the Irish are running out of time (three regular season games) to salvage something respectable with the record.
There have been a few long nights in league play for these guys, but Tuesday might’ve been the longest. Not because Notre Dame ever built a big lead, only to let go of the rope as it did in ACC swings through midtown Atlanta (17 points at Georgia Tech) and Central New York (20 points at Syracuse). Those were crushing conclusions for different reasons. Those were two games when Notre Dame thought it had a coveted league road win. It did everything right — for the most part — to get it, but didn’t get it.
Tuesday was different in that the Irish were out of it nearly from the jump. It felt less like a competitive basketball game and more like trying to get in some cardio navigating your way through the half-melted/half-frozen snow and slush on the streets that wind through the subdivision. It’s a good workout, but it’s exhausting.
That was Tuesday.
Less than 90 seconds in, after going 1-for-16 from 3-point range in a 45-point loss at North Carolina on Saturday, Louisville connected on — yep, you guessed it — a 3-pointer from Dre Davis. And off we went. The Davis bucket gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead and that was that. Notre Dame never led while Louisville (12-5; 7-4) led for a staggering 38:28.
Notre Dame had one solid stretch when it didn’t let Louisville climb all over the place for offensive rebounds with a run where making a basket didn’t involve so much work. Down by 11 with nine minutes and change remaining, Notre Dame mustered a 3 from Dane Goodwin, a Juwan Durham fade jumper in the lane and a Cormac Ryan 3. That one brought the Irish to within five with 6:25 left.
The line of thinking there went that for all that went wrong for Notre Dame up to that point, maybe it was time the final six minutes went right. The Irish would go on one of their noted bursts where everything came easily and they could do what so many past outfits were able to do in buildings such as Yum!, and in conference games in the ACC and the Big East.
One more run?
As bad as it had gone, maybe the Irish would figure out how to steal one against a team that was playing its first home game in 22 days, three nights after it played its first game in 19 because of coronavirus issues.
But it was the Irish who had issues Tuesday. Too many of them to control.
That five-point deficit, while cause of some intrigue on the television for the two guys calling the game who wouldn’t take a breath — yak, yak, yak — really wasn’t worth getting all that worked up over. Down in Kentucky, specifically on the Irish sideline, the hole felt more like a crater.
“When we cut it to five points, it still felt like 10,” Brey said. “’Cause everything was so hard.”
This one was hard for Notre Dame because for everything to go right for this team in this season, everybody’s got to be right. Playing seven guys — Brey’s rotational preference — works only if all seven operate as one. Nobody, whether it be the point guard or the shooting guard or the wing forward or the two guys coming in off the bench, can afford an off night. They all have to be on and the switches have to be flipped as one.
Eliminate one from the equation and the math gets a lot harder. Take out two or three and there’s no chance. You can’t be just OK. Just OK gets you to 9-12 and keeps you muddled in the league middle. Or lower.
So Tuesday was a no-chance night.
“You’re not going to beat a team as talented as Louisville,” Brey said. “For us to beat anybody, those seven have to be in a good rhythm. We had some guys that just didn’t play well.”
Goodwin, Nate Laszewski, Ryan and Trey Wertz all found it hard to get going. They shot a combined 7-for-30 from the field, 3-for-18 from 3. Laszewski missed all eight of his shots from the field, all six from 3.
“They are a great defensive team, and athletically guard you and take away stuff,” Brey said. “It was hard for us to score against their set defense.”
On the other end, the Cardinals were soaring in from seemingly everywhere — Frankfort, Lexington, even over the neighboring Ohio River in Indiana — to grab missed shots and get the home team additional ones. That five-point Irish deficit quickly jumped to a dozen in less than three minutes thanks in part to two crusher offensive rebounds that resulted in four of the Cardinals’ 18 second chance points.
When nothing’s going right — and so little did over the course of the 40 minutes — there’s only so much the Irish can do. Getting it from Durham (18 points, six rebounds) and Hubb (14 points, six rebounds, four assists) just isn’t going to get it done. Not against that team. Not against any ACC team.
“At the end of the day, you’ve just got to compete,” said Durham.
The best way for the Irish to compete Tuesday was to give the ball to Hubb and let him decide what to do — create, drive it, shoot it.
“When we get into that mode,” Brey said, “we’re just grasping at straws.”
It takes more than that at this level against teams like that. You can’t win many games going the direction the Irish did. Even Brey knew early where this was headed.
“You’re hanging on for dear life,” Brey said. “It’s a real mental test.”
One the Irish still aren’t able to ace.
LOUISVILLE 69, ND 57
At Louisville, Ky.
NOTRE DAME (57): Durham 9-15 0-0 18, Laszewski 0-8 2-2 2, Goodwin 1-6 6-8 9, Hubb 5-11 0-1 14, Wertz 2-7 0-0 5, Ryan 4-9 0-0 9, Djogo 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-57 8-11 57.
LOUISVILLE (69): Withers 5-11 0-0 12, Williams 2-6 1-2 6, Jones 7-14 2-3 18, Davis 4-11 1-1 11, Williamson 6-10 0-0 12, Slazinski 3-7 4-5 10, Traynor 0-4 0-0 0, Minlend 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-64 8-11 69.
Halftime_Louisville 33-24. 3-Point Goals_Notre Dame 7-28 (Hubb 4-8, Wertz 1-3, Goodwin 1-4, Ryan 1-5, Djogo 0-1, Durham 0-1, Laszewski 0-6), Louisville 7-21 (Withers 2-2, Jones 2-4, Davis 2-6, Williams 1-3, Minlend 0-1, Traynor 0-1, Williamson 0-1, Slazinski 0-3). Rebounds_Notre Dame 30 (Ryan 8), Louisville 45 (Withers 13). Assists_Notre Dame 9 (Hubb 6), Louisville 13 (Jones 4). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 12, Louisville 12.