Okafor challenge awaits Notre Dame, Auguste
The big guy is due.
Big home games under the brightest of lights have not gone well for Notre Dame power forward Zach Auguste.
The first one arrived in early December against perennial Big Ten power Michigan State. Auguste shot 2-of-7 from the field with four points and two rebounds in 19 minutes as No. 8 Notre Dame won in overtime. Auguste then spent much of an Atlantic Coast Conference game against No. 2 Virginia on a virtual yo-yo between the floor and the bench. Again never able to get into a good flow on either end, he finished with as many fouls (4) as points in 22 unproductive minutes.
Could the third time be a charm for Auguste? If so, it will come Wednesday against the nation’s premier big man in freshman Jahlil Okafor and No. 4 Duke.
The 6-foot-10 Auguste knows well what to expect from the 6-11 Okafor, already the ACC rookie of the week seven times.
“He’s a big body and he has skilled footwork,” Auguste said. “He likes to work his way inside the paint. He has more than one move in his arsenal.”
Whether the Irish offer Auguste low-post defensive assistance remains for debate. Notre Dame rarely doubles in the post. Leaving Auguste alone around the rim against Okafor may leave him susceptible to early foul trouble. Doubling him also may leave someone else open for a big night.
“That’s something we’ve got to digest,” Irish coach Mike Brey said.
Regardless, Auguste knows he cannot make this one all about big vs. big. He’s got to keep from rushing shots to try get himself going early, which didn’t work well against Michigan State or Virginia. He’s got to keep from turning it over. He’s got to defend. He’s got to play with the free mind that has allowed him to enjoy his biggest league games – 10 points, 11 rebounds Sunday against North Carolina State, 16 points, eight rebounds last week against Virginia Tech, and 18 points, six rebounds against North Carolina – on the road.
The Irish prefer to get Auguste a touch early to start every game. If there’s a scoring chance there, take it. If not, pass out, re-post and relax.
“I can’t get stuck into a bang-bang thing with him,” Auguste said. “I have to use my strength and he’s going to use his.”
That means forcing Okafor to make decisions in the screen-roll game Auguste runs so well with guard Jerian Grant. It also means getting out in transition, where Auguste believes he can prove something to the freshman.
What might that be?
“I can run the (darn) floor,” Auguste said. “Yep.”
Mike and Mike
Having spent eight seasons as an assistant at Duke prior to becoming a head coach, Brey is forever linked to the coaching career of Mike Krzyzewski.
Yet those eight seasons Brey spent in Durham still seem like a dream.
“The time I was there was not real,” Brey said. “My eight years, we went to six Final Fours, won it twice (1991, 1992). Talk about getting spoiled as a coach during that time.”
As Krzyzewski neared his 1,000th career coaching win, secured Sunday with Duke’s win at St. John’s, Brey was asked constantly about his time with Krzyzewski, his memories of Krzyzewski, and his thoughts on Krzyzewski doing what no Division I coach has been able to do.
“I’m honored that I was a small part of that way back when I was a younger man and wore a tie and had more hair,” Brey said. “I’m always thankful for him taking a chance on me. He thought outside the box.”
Krzyzewski’s 1,000th win meant the traveling circus that had become Duke basketball the last couple of weeks subsided somewhat as the Blue Devils headed for South Bend. But Brey expected as much of a carnival atmosphere in a game between two Top 10 teams.
“It’s a great matchup,” he said. “Our fans are going to be through the roof.”
Wednesday’s game is the first at Purcell Pavilion between two Top 10 teams since Feb. 9, 2003. On that Sunday with Brent Musburger and Dick Vitale on the call for a nationally-televised game on ABC, No. 10 Notre Dame beat No. 4 Pittsburgh, 66-64, following a Torin Francis layup with 0.6 seconds remaining.
Notre Dame enters Wednesday’s game ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press poll. Duke is No. 4.
It’s the first time two teams with single-digit rankings in both major polls (Associated Press; USA Today/Coaches) will meet in South Bend since Dec. 11, 1979 when No. 4 Notre Dame beat No. 7 UCLA, 77-74.
Wednesday is the second home game for Notre Dame this season against a Top 10 team. The Irish had their five-game home win streak against Top 10 teams snapped earlier this week by No. 2 Virginia.
The Irish are 13-7 at home against Top 10 teams under Brey.
• Notre Dame’s next home win will be No. 600 in the history of Purcell Pavilion (formerly the Joyce Center). The Irish have called the building’s south dome home since 1968-69.
• After shooting 53.3 percent from the field Jan. 3 against Georgia Tech, Notre Dame has shot under 50 percent in each of its last six games. The Irish still rank second in the nation in field goal percentage (52.1) behind only No. 3 Gonzaga (53.3).
• The Irish lead the ACC and the nation in assist/turnover ratio (1.72).
• Notre Dame’s 10 turnovers Sunday against North Carolina State snapped a streak of five-straight Irish games of single-digit turnovers.
• The Irish have outrebounded their opponents each of the last three games and four of the last five.
• Notre Dame is 5-1 in games decided by four points or fewer or overtime. That includes a 3-0 record in overtime. The lone loss was by one point to Providence. The Irish have lost two games by a combined seven points.
• Of Krzyzewski’s 1,000 career victories, 927 have come at Duke, where he’s won four national championship in 11 trips to the Final Four.
• The last time Notre Dame played host to the nation’s No. 4 team, it beat Alabama 99-85 on Dec. 7, 2006.
• Freshman power forward Martinas Geben appeared in each of the first 18 Irish games but has logged a DNP-CD (did not play, coach’s decision) in two of the last three. Fellow power forward Austin Burgett had not played in three of the last four.
The final word
“Our group believes we can get it done against just about anybody. We’ve shown some great toughness to date, but a long road left in the ACC.”
-Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.