Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia defined by defense

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Five guys responsible for the most recent Notre Dame men’s basketball victory sat scattered about the love seats and recliners in the team lounge.

V.J. Beachem, Pat Connaughton, Jerian Grant, Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia were there to meet the media Saturday after the now-No. 8 Irish (17-2, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) shrugged off a 12-point deficit with 15 minutes to play for a 75-70 victory over Miami (Fla.).

All most of them could talk about before the cameras and microphones started rolling was Vasturia and his defense. How league teams game after game and night after night continue to take him and his skills to guard for granted.

Why does anyone think they can get to the basket on him? When are they going to learn? Any coach who still tries to run sets to break Vasturia down one-on-one off the dribble should be fired, someone offered.

As is his nature, Vasturia just sat in silence taking it all in. He prefers to let his game do his talking.

“On the ball, he’s a great defender,” said Grant, who knows of who he speaks after dealing daily with Vasturia during offseason pickup games. “A lot of teams, when he switches out on them and they try to isolate him, they end up taking a bad shot and they don’t know what happened.”

“No matter what you do,” Beachem said, “he’s going to be there with a chest on you.”

At 6-foot-6, 211 pounds, Vasturia is long enough and strong enough to use his size and strength to his defensive advantage. But he also applies a few basic principles to keep from being embarrassed — namely, move the feet and don’t get beat.

He rarely has got beat. Vasturia is the team’s fifth-highest scorer at 8.7 points per game, but when it comes to staying involved, he’s right there with Connaughton and Grant and Jackson as a gotta-have guy for coach Mike Brey. He can’t afford to have No. 32 on the bench for more than a few minutes.

“He’s one of the most underrated guys in college basketball,” Brey said of the sophomore, who plays 30.4 minutes a game, up from last season’s 23.1. “I don’t know if even our fans understand how much he does for us. He’s just rock-solid, and he’s the same guy every day.

“He does what he’s supposed to do.”

Always. Brey saw early in the recruiting process that with his smarts for the game, Vasturia would fit in well with an Irish program that values basketball IQ. Brey watched him closely at an AAU tournament in Orlando, Fla., one summer. It wasn’t that the kid from Medford, N.J., played hard or always seemed to make the right play when needed, but at time in the hoops calendar when defense is strictly optional and rarely offered for more than a possession or two, Vasturia was guarding guys as if championships were at stake.

The team that Vasturia’s AAU squad — the Jersey Shore Warriors — played that day in central Florida ran a dribble-drive-attack offense. Guys who didn’t have a sound defensive base were routinely taken apart.

Not Vasturia.

“No one got by him,” Brey said. “He just plays angles and just really knows how to move his feet and keep his body in front of people.

“That was as impressive as anything as he did offensively.”

Prior to the Jan. 14 rematch against Georgia Tech, Brey worried about Yellow Jackets guard Marcus Georges-Hunt, who was a whole lot to handle the first time the teams met earlier this month. He went for a team-high 20 points that day as the Irish had to fight and scratch and claw to win in double overtime.

Guarding Georges-Hunt in midtown Atlanta 11 days after the first meeting was sure to be a 40-minute migraine.

Vasturia then handcuffed Georges-Hunt to a point where he never was a factor. Georges-Hunt finished 0-for-6 from the floor in a 62-59 Irish win.

It wasn’t pretty for Vasturia, but it was effective.

“It’s just the way I grew up playing basketball — it’s both ends of the floor,” he said. “A lot of people may not like defense. It’s not flashy or anything, (but) it’s going to get you noticed if you do it.”

It also might allow Notre Dame, which has won 13 of its last 14, to maximize its potential this season. Prior to Vasturia’s arrival, Connaughton was handed the assignment of guarding the other’s team’s top perimeter player. Connaughton’s become a greater value battling for rebounds around the rim. Having Vasturia step in and assume those defensive duties has freed Connaughton up to do what he does best.

“People don’t understand what exactly he does for this team and all that he brings to the table,” Connaughton said of Vasturia. “Just the toughness that he brings and the confidence that he brings, he’s really a complete player.”

Vasturia’s game — defend, move the ball, handle it against pressure, pick his spots to make shots — often gets lost in the highlight shuffle. Take Saturday against Miami. Each of the other four guys who helped the Irish roar back enjoyed memorable moments — Grant’s forays down the lane. Jackson soaring in for a tip-in that tied the game. Connaughton’s relentless rebounds. Beachem’s big 3s. Vasturia? Well….

He was silent for the first 31 minutes, then erupted for nine points in the final nine. He hit a corner 3. He had a baseline drive. He tossed in a hook shot. He finished with 11 points.

All in his game's work.

“It’s letting the game come to you and not forcing anything, especially with the weapons we have on this team,” Vasturia said as the Irish prepared for Thursday’s league road test against Virginia Tech (8-9, 0-4). “I don’t have to put my head down and force anything. If you don’t hit shots, somebody else will.

“Being steady, being consistent is a big thing.”

As far as being a known guy, that’s simply not Vasturia’s style. Other than growing his traditional offseason mullet (he always get his hair cut clean and close before the season starts) Vasturia isn’t one to draw much attention to himself, on or off the floor. He’ll take the ribbing from teammates for having the worst vertical leap (he agrees) or that he he’s among the team’s worst dressers (he disagrees), anything that tightens the bond in a locker room that was too loose last season.

Headlines and highlights? Let someone else grab them. If that means Vasturia is considered underappreciated even by the savviest of hoops fans, so be it.

“It really doesn’t affect me or matter to me,” he said. “I’m just trying to win some games.”

Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia plays with a poise and pace about him not often found in many college sophomores.SBT File Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

WHO: No. 8 Notre Dame (17-2 overall, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) vs. Virginia Tech (8-9, 0-4).

WHERE: Cassell Coliseum (10,052), Blacksburg, Va.

WHEN: Thursday at 7 p.m.

TV: Comcast Channel 101. The game also can be seen via the internet on ESPN3.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at

WORTH NOTING: Adam Smith scored 11 points and Shane Henry added 10 and Virginia Tech had 13 steals and forced 17 turnovers in a 68-53 loss Sunday at North Carolina. … The Hokies have lost five-straight games since a Dec. 27 victory over Presbyterian. … Their other league losses are to Syracuse, Florida State and Louisville. They also have non-league losses to Appalachian State and Radford. … Virginia Tech averages 68.1 points and allows 67.0 overall, but averages 64.3 points and allows 75.0 in ACC play. … Tech is ranked 14th in the ACC for scoring margin (+1.1) and 15th in free throw percentage (60.8) and rebounding margin (-5.4). … The Hokies return two starters off last year’s team that finished 9-22, 2-16 and 15th — last place — in the ACC. They were picked this fall to finish 15th. … Coach Buzz Williams is in his first season at Virginia Tech after six at Marquette. … Notre Dame went 4-3 against Marquette during Williams’ tenure, including a 73-65 victory in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals March 14, 2013. … This is the only regular-season meeting between the teams. … Notre Dame has won four straight in the series and leads all-time 4-1. The Irish are 2-0 in Blacksburg with their last trip a 74-63 victory on Jan. 19, 2004. Notre Dame also clinched the Big East West Division regular-season championship in Blacksburg with an 85-61 victory on Feb. 24, 2001. … Virginia Tech has not beaten Notre Dame since a 92-91 victory on March 25, 1973 in the postseason National Invitation Tournament. … Since a Nov. 23 loss to Providence, Notre Dame has lost one game (to No. 2 Virginia) in the last 60 days. … The Irish jumped into the Top 10 of the national rankings this week for the fourth time in coach Mike Brey’s15 seasons. Notre Dame is 22-13 during the regular season and 24-15 overall under Brey when ranked in the top 10. … This starts a stretch of three of the next four league games on the road for the Irish, who are 2-0 away from home in ACC play. … Notre Dame returns to action Sunday at North Carolina State.

WORTH QUOTING: “If you study their numbers, they’re as potent offensively as anybody in the country. It’s almost unreal numbers. We can’t turn it over, because they’re not going to turn it over. The value of a possession will be ginormous.”

— Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams on playing Notre Dame.