Noie: Prentiss Hubb needed a game like this, so did Irish

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND

Smile and easy-going style aside, Notre Dame assistant coach Ryan Humphrey can be as subtle as a sledgehammer when it’s time to make a point.

Kind of like his game back when he’d amble onto the basketball court with that herky-jerky gait, then go from 1 to 10 on the energy meter like that to dunk on guys or jump over others for rebounds or soar to send blocked shots into the seats. Boom! Didn’t see that coming.

It was time over the previous few days for Humphrey, a former Irish power forward and first round NBA draft pick, to make a certain point to sophomore point guard Prentiss Hubb.

Having erupted for a career high 22 points in the opener at No. 17 North Carolina, Hubb was way overdue since we last saw that kind of look about him — attacking, aggressive, even borderline cocky, but in the best of ways. There’s nothing wrong with that. Not on this team. Not for this season. Be you.

Humphrey reminded Hubb in the days before Saturday’s grind of a home game against UCLA that for this season to be a success, Hubb had to get back to being that guy we saw on opening night, to get back to playing the way he can play. Free-wheeling. Free spirited. Free. Like one of the best guards in one of the nation’s best conferences.

Humphrey believes the 6-foot-3 Hubb is one of the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Sophomore or not, he can be special. He just had to show it.

He did. Again. At last.

Hubb thought he was due for a big game about 10 days prior at No. 3 Maryland. Didn’t happen. He struggled from start to finish. So did the rest of his teammates. He wasn’t that much better the next game out against Boston College, but was pretty good earlier in the week against Detroit Mercy. Still there were six games sprinkled in there where Hubb failed to score double figures. That’s too many to have too few.

That was then — a pair of losses to power-five conference teams and a 39-point victory over a rag-tag team from up north. Hubb had a good chance to do a lot of good on national television Saturday. He then followed through with that, going for game highs for points (20) and assists (six) as Notre Dame sent UCLA back to the West Coast with a 75-61 loss.

It was a contest that really wasn’t that close. Notre Dame never trailed and never really was threatened by a UCLA team that struggled to make shots the way Notre Dame has struggled to make shots. Even when the Bruins closed to within 11 in the second half, it seemed more like 21. They weren’t going to score enough to make it interesting. Notre Dame’s defense and shot making wasn’t going to let it happen.

Hubb also had something to say about this one. Like, not today, UCLA. His talks with Humphrey, though they may have been more one-sided, helped.

“It’s definitely motivated me a lot,” Hubb said of having Humphrey in his ear. “People have a lot of high expectations of me like my coaches, teammates, family and friends. It would be kind of sad to kind of let them down.”

No letdown on this day. When Hubb’s playing the way he did, he’s different. Notre Dame is too. Irish coach Mike Brey said there are times when Hubb tries too much, and maybe too hard, to fit himself into that point guard position. Distribute the ball. Get the guys in some semblance of an offensive flow. Just kind of quarterback everything. That’s fine, but that can’t be his only job. There are nights when Hubb has to look to score. To drive it. To step back and knock down some 3s like Saturday when he made five of 10. When he does that, he plays with a certain swagger. A needed swagger. When he’s got it, it kind of gets the rest of his teammates going and thinking, yeah, we’re pretty good.

“He’s kind of our commander,” said power forward John Mooney, who delivered another double double with 14 points and 15 rebounds. “When he’s rolling, it certainly opens a lot of stuff up.

“He showed it tonight, man. He’s one of the best guards in the conference and in the country.”

When it ended, Hubb slung a left arm around the shoulder of his coach as they left the court. Smiling. Talking. Laughing.

Notre Dame needed this one, for myriad reasons. It mattered little that the Irish made it look so easy earlier in the week, when they tied the school record for 3-points (20) and assists (33) in the lopsided contest. They weren’t really challenged by a team that’s going to lose far more games than they’ll win. They needed to return to action Saturday and beat a team from a known conference, beat a team with a known name. Have this final score scroll across the ticker.

It doesn’t matter that UCLA struggled to make shots (34.9 percent from the floor). It doesn’t matter that the Bruins are going to struggle to win games in coach Mick Cronin’s first season. It doesn’t matter that Saturday’s game looked more like a rock fight (yeah, it was that ugly). What mattered was that the Irish got a good win. By no means is it a great win, or a win that’s going to slingshot Notre Dame back toward any type of NCAA tournament conversation. Those talks can surface later. But if the Irish didn’t get Saturday, it would be hard for them to surface at all.

Nobody will mistake Saturday’s matchup for the one that unfolded on the same floor, kind of, sort of, in 1974. That was basketball poetry in motion. History in the making. Saturday wasn’t, even with Digger Phelps and Bill Walton in the same building at the same time, like in ‘74. Both called the game for ABC.

Phelps lit out immediately after the final horn. Walton hung around nearly an hour after the game to pose for pictures. With Irish fans. With UCLA fans. With ushers. With regular guys from Elkhart or Osceola or Niles. Just a dude chilling with nowhere else really to be and no certain time to be there. It was weird.

Kind of like the call of the game. Social media indicated that the telecast went off the rails early on (big shock there). The game threatened to follow. Both teams struggled to make any sort of shot. At one time they combined to go 1-for-17 and 5-for-25.

Notre Dame then got rolling. First T.J. Gibbs. Then Dane Goodwin. Then Hubb. And Mooney. It all was nice to see. And much needed. For this team. At this time. Compared to where Notre Dame was a week ago at that time following the Maryland-Boston College double team, Brey will take it and the week off for finals and run with it.

“Wooo. What a difference a week makes,” Brey said. “No question about it. It’s a great group, man.”

UCLA (7-4): Riley 3-11 0-1 6, Hill 0-5 3-4 3, Ali 3-7 3-4 9, Campbell 2-5 0-2 5, Jaquez 3-8 2-3 9, Olesinski 2-5 0-0 5, O’Neal 3-6 1-4 8, Singleton 2-4 0-0 6, Smith 4-12 1-2 10, Kyman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-63 10-20 61.

NOTRE DAME (8-3): Durham 1-3 0-1 2, Mooney 5-11 3-3 14, Gibbs 4-14 3-4 15, Hubb 6-12 3-5 20, Pflueger 0-5 0-1 0, Laszewski 3-6 0-0 8, Goodwin 5-12 3-3 16. Totals 24-63 12-17 75.

Halftime_Notre Dame 31-24. 3-Point Goals_UCLA 7-16 (Singleton 2-4, Olesinski 1-2, O’Neal 1-2, Campbell 1-2, Smith 1-2, Jaquez 1-3, Ali 0-1), Notre Dame 15-39 (Hubb 5-10, Gibbs 4-10, Goodwin 3-8, Laszewski 2-5, Mooney 1-3, Pflueger 0-3). Fouled Out_Jaquez. Rebounds_UCLA 45 (O’Neal 11), Notre Dame 38 (Mooney 15). Assists_UCLA 9 (Ali, Campbell, Smith 2), Notre Dame 15 (Hubb 6). Total Fouls_UCLA 18, Notre Dame 14. A_8,083 (9,149).

Notre Dame sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb (3) had a ball scoring and directing and just playing during Saturday’s game against UCLA.