Buzzer beater bites Notre Dame at UCLA

Tribune Staff Report
ND Insider

LOS ANGELES — It already was going to be a long cross-country charter flight home through the overnight for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team.

It likely felt a whole lot longer, think a crowded commercial flight on a holiday weekend with weather issues, turbulence and long delays, after how Saturday’s game at UCLA unfolded. And ended.

Trailing by as many as 14 points after going nearly nine minutes without a basket, the Irish battled back with a chance to win it at Pauley Pavilion.

Notre Dame had three chances at the lead in the final 1:51, but couldn’t convert on any of those looks. Kris Wilkes then delivered a 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds remaining to hand the Irish a 65-62 loss.

"We took some big punches on the road," said Irish coach Mike Brey. "Loved that we gave ourselves chances to win. Gotta give credit to UCLA. They made some big plays at key times."

The game ended around 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning South Bend time.

California native Rex Pflueger led the Irish (6-3) with 14 points. D.J. Harvey added 13. John Mooney finished with his fifth double double of 12 points and 11 rebounds.

"Usually when you bring a guy home, he's a mess," Brey said of Pflueger's return to Southern California. "Rex Pfleuger was a warrior the whole night. Rex Pflueger's a big-time winner."

Fouled by Prentiss Hubb on a 3-point shot, Bruin guard Prince Ali made three free throws to tie it at 62 with 2:17 left. Notre Dame then had three shots at the lead. T.J. Gibbs couldn’t convert on a challenge layup. Harvey couldn’t knock in an open 3 and Hubb had a layup blocked in the closing seconds, which led to Wilkes’ 3.

Hubb took his shot, off a crowded and contested drive, with four seconds left on the shot clock, 7.8 on the game. After it was thoroughly swatted by Jalen Hill, Ali raced the ball up the floor and found Wilkes on the wing for the win.

"It stings like heck," Brey said, "but I think we got better this week. We don't have a win to show for it."

Wilkes missed a stretch of the second half while battling leg cramps.

It got interesting late in the second half when two Harvey buckets — a 3 and a baseline jumper — spearheaded a 7-0 Irish run and brought the visitors within one, 53-52, with under eight minutes to play. After going a really long stretch of not being able to do much right, the Irish suddenly couldn’t do anything wrong. On either end.

And when Hubb hit two free throws with 6:49 remaining, Notre Dame had its first lead at 54-53 since it was 8-5. The lead crept to four following a Gibbs 3.

Trailing by as many as 14 points in the opening minutes of the second half, after a first where they couldn’t make nearly anything, the Irish delivered a 7-0 run in 91 seconds to get within six, 39-33, following a Mooney jumper.

A Gibbs runner made it nine-straight points for the Irish, who got within four, 39-35, with 15:27 remaining.

It was Notre Dame’s first true road game of the year and second of three straight away from home after seven in a row at Purcell Pavilion to start the season. It also was the first game back in the Golden State for Pflueger, a California native whose family needed around 200 tickets Saturday.

Pflueger connected on the game’s first basket – a 3-pointer from the right wing. That helped the Irish grab an 8-2 lead before the Bruins ran off 13 unanswered. Nate Laszewski snapped that run with a corner 3 at 13:36.

This one got away from Notre Dame late in the first half when it made only one of 13 shots. The Irish went the final 7:40 without a point, and also turned it over four times. That allowed UCLA to build an 11-point lead at intermission after an 11-0 run.

Notre Dame shot 22.9 percent (8-of-35) from the floor and 20 percent (3-of-15) from 3 while finishing with a season-low 20 points in the first half. It’s not that the shots didn’t fall, some of them weren’t even close. They hit only the backboard, or nothing. They were rushed and off-balance and just too high-degree of difficulty.

The longer the Irish staggered through the scoreless stretch, the more they seemed to press.

The Irish scoreless streak lasted nearly nine minutes before a Pflueger 3 in the opening two minutes of the second half. By that time, UCLA had run off 14 unanswered to build a 34-20 lead.

Saturday was the first time one-time rivals had met since 2009. UCLA will return to South Bend next season before the series again goes on hiatus. Brey would like to revisit a renewal of the series sometime down the line.

Playing at UCLA marked the first time since 2011-12 that the Irish have played a regular-season game (on the mainland) so far from home. That year, Notre Dame ventured to Spokane, Wash., for a game against Gonzaga and returned home with a 73-53 loss.

The telecast, on ESPN2, featured an interesting exchange with analyst Bill Walton, part of the UCLA team that had its 88-game win streak snapped in South Bend by Notre Dame in 1974. Coming back out of the under-12 timeout of the first half, video of the final seconds of that game was shown.

“Ouch,” Walton responded as the video was shown.

Producers then linked up former Irish coach Digger Phelps by phone to speak on the air with Walton.

“Bill, do you miss me?” Phelps asked from his home back in South Bend.

“Who is this?” Walton wondered.

Heading into the break, Walton had held up a sign that read, “Digger is a wimp.”

Walton has long insisted that he’s never gotten over that 71-70 loss — the only game he lost in high school and college combined.

Notre Dame’s charter flight home from the West Coast — instead of going commercial so the team could get back in time for final exam week — didn't land until just after 6 a.m. Sunday. A week of work in the classroom awaits before Notre Dame returns to action next weekend against Purdue in the annual Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis.

The Irish have lost each of their last three Crossroads contests, where they built double-digit leads over Indiana (twice) and Purdue (once). Each of those losses stung.

Probably not as much as Saturday’s.

• UCLA 65, NOTRE DAME 62

At Pauley Pavilion

NOTRE DAME (6-3): Mooney 5-12 2-3 12, Gibbs 4-14 0-0 9, Pflueger 5-6 0-0 14, Hubb 2-12 2-2 7, Harvey 5-12 2-2 13, Laszewski 1-2 0-0 3, Durham 1-3 0-0 2, Carmody 0-2 0-0 0, Goodwin 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 24-66 6-7 62.

UCLA (7-2): Riley 3-10 2-2 9, Brown 4-9 0-4 8, Hands 5-17 0-0 12, Ali 3-7 4-6 12, Wilkes 5-14 1-1 14, Hill 1-3 0-0 2, Singleton 1-4 1-2 4, Bernard 1-2 0-0 2, Smith 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 24-70 8-15 65.

Halftime—UCLA 31-20. 3-Point Goals—Notre Dame 8-25 (Pflueger 4-4, Laszewski 1-2, Hubb 1-4, Gibbs 1-5, Harvey 1-6, Goodwin 0-1, Carmody 0-1, Mooney 0-2), UCLA 9-25 (Wilkes 3-7, Ali 2-4, Hands 2-8, Riley 1-1, Singleton 1-2, Bernard 0-1, Smith 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Notre Dame 37 (Mooney 12), UCLA 46 (Hill 11). Assists—Notre Dame 16 (Gibbs, Pflueger, Hubb 4), UCLA 17 (Hands 11). Total Fouls—Notre Dame 13, UCLA 12. Technicals—Durham.

UCLA guard Kris Wilkes (13) celebrates after scoring the go-ahead basket with teammates Prince Ali (23) and Jaylen Hands (4) during an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Los Angeles.