Noie: A demoralizing day for Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Sell the place out for the first time this season, give everyone green pom-poms to wave, rope in a national television audience and wait for the home team to shed its recent run of rotten karma.

But if said home team isn’t ready to compete at an off-the-charts level from the start, and the No. 3 team in the country decides to play like the No. 3 team in the country, this one was going to turn quickly into one tough go for Notre Dame.

That’s exactly how a forgetful Saturday unfolded.

Old and experienced and scary good Virginia scored the first 12 points to all but run away and hide. The early burst basically crushed Notre Dame’s will and want-to and everything else that goes into competing at college basketball’s highest level. The Irish had no chance. They showed a slice of fight in the second half, but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep the Cavaliers from dancing out of Purcell Pavilion with an 82-55 victory.

“That’s men versus boys, flat-out,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “They kind of took our spirit. We played discouraged.”

The most lopsided Notre Dame home loss during Brey’s 19 seasons never was close. That’s what was so darn disheartening. To Brey. To his players. To a fan base that keeps believing better days are ahead, even when another Atlantic Coast Conference loss appears in the rear-view mirror.

A giant opportunity for Notre Dame produced only a giant step back. Losers of four straight, Notre Dame falls to 11-9 overall, 1-6 and in last place in the 15-team ACC. Looking every bit like the league’s elite and a Final Four contender, Virginia improves to 18-1, 6-1.

This one ended early. Really early. Like the first six-plus minutes of the first half. Notre Dame labored through the opening four minutes without a point. Couldn’t shoot it. Couldn’t score it. Couldn’t get any flow. Couldn’t keep the shot clock from sliding under 10 seconds before slipping back into scramble/wild shot mode.

When the Irish meandered to the bench at the first media timeout, they had zero points on the scoreboard. Not a good look for the national TV audience, if they hadn’t already changed the channel.

Even a long walk outside on a cold day was a better option than having to watch this one.

Coming back out of the break wasn’t any better. Notre Dame missed its first nine shots and trailed 12-0 before figuring out that it was time to play.

“When they punched us in the first half, we really didn’t have an answer,” said Irish guard T.J. Gibbs. “They did it for a full 40. They kicked our (butt).”

Virginia didn’t let Friday’s travel trials affect its focus or its game or its determination to dominate. The Cavaliers didn’t get to town until about 14 hours before tip because of weather issues. It looked like Notre Dame was the team that was all out of sorts. Weird shots. Bad defense. Just not there when the Irish all needed to be there.

Why?

“To tell you the truth, I really don’t know,” Gibbs said. “We got some good shots that didn’t go down for us.”

Virginia was there. All there.

“If you’re ready to play, you’re ready to play,” said Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett.

One team was. The other wasn’t.

“You were hoping you could be more competitive,” Brey said. “It’s demoralizing.”

Brey could explain away previous league losses to Virginia Tech and Syracuse and North Carolina and North Carolina State. Even the one earlier in the week at Georgia Tech. Those were games where Notre Dame at least gave itself a chance somewhere along the line. Sifting through those setbacks, there were at least some positives to spot. To carry with them as they move forward.

Then came Saturday. The fear going into it was that it would be bad. Would Notre Dame get to 20 points in the first half? It did. Would it get to 50 for the game? It did, but barely. The reality was worse — much worse — than anyone anticipated. Notre Dame never led and trailed at one point by 30 points in its own building. A building where ranked teams so often left with losses. But that’s in the past.

Virginia is just that good. Notre Dame is just that …. green.

“That was a perfect storm that hit us right between the eyes,” Brey said. “We’re not in Virginia’s league right now.”

Notre Dame didn’t go down without a little fight, even though it lasted for about six minutes. Virginia looked disinterested to start the second half, and allowed Notre Dame to climb back to within 12. But Bennett called a timeout, got his guys refocused and it was the same old Virginia — and the same old Notre Dame — the rest of the way. After seeing its lead sliced to a dozen, the Cavaliers bounced it back over 20. Way over 20.

This one couldn’t end soon enough.

Unable to see his team compete to its standard on Saturday, Brey hoped to see it Sunday. That’s when he scheduled a rare 8 a.m. practice in advance of Monday’s game against No. 2 Duke.

Saturday was ugly. Monday might be uglier. Forget about chasing a winning league record or making a magical run in February. To do that, you’ve got to play with some pride. Some want-to. Some edge. Energy.

Everything that never surfaced Saturday.

No. 3 VIRGINIA 82, NOTRE DAME 55

VIRGINIA (18-1): Diakite 4-6 1-2 10, Salt 2-4 0-0 4, Hunter 9-15 1-3 19, Jerome 6-10 0-0 13, Guy 6-8 0-0 15, Key 2-6 0-0 4, Huff 1-5 0-0 2, Badocchi 0-1 0-0 0, Clark 4-9 2-2 12, Stattmann 1-2 0-0 3, Kersey 0-0 0-0 0, Anthony 0-1 0-0 0, Nixon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 35-67 4-7 82.

NOTRE DAME (11-9): Mooney 6-15 0-0 15, Laszewski 1-6 0-1 3, Gibbs 4-12 1-4 9, Goodwin 3-7 0-0 8, Harvey 3-9 2-2 9, Doherty 2-2 0-0 4, Hubb 3-7 0-1 7, Djogo 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 22-61 3-8 55.

Halftime—Virginia 42-25. 3-Point Goals—Virginia 8-18 (Guy 3-5, Clark 2-4, Diakite 1-1, Stattmann 1-1, Jerome 1-2, Badocchi 0-1, Hunter 0-2, Huff 0-2), Notre Dame 8-29 (Mooney 3-4, Goodwin 2-2, Hubb 1-4, Harvey 1-6, Laszewski 1-6, Djogo 0-2, Gibbs 0-5). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Virginia 44 (Jerome 9), Notre Dame 29 (Mooney 10). Assists—Virginia 12 (Jerome 6), Notre Dame 10 (Hubb 5). Total Fouls—Virginia 9, Notre Dame 8. A—9,149 (9,149).

Notre Dame’s T.J. Gibbs Jr. drives in on Virginia’s Kody Stattmann Saturday at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend.
Notre Dame’s Dane Goodwin, right, blocks a shot by Virginia’s Kihei Clark Saturday at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend.