Saturday, December 09, 2006

Underdog Irish Slam 4th Ranked 'Bama 99-85

It was Dec. 7th, the vigil of Our Lady's great feast day, and Notre Dame looked beautiful atop the dome, shining bright against the crisp and cloudy sky. Meanwhile, down below on the other side of campus, the upstart Irish men's basketball team did their best to shine themselves honoring Her presence by scoring a surprised 99-85 win over the 4th ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.

With three senior starters gone from last year's "Hard Luck" Irish Squad (which finished 16-14 but lost twelve games by five points or less, including five in overtime), the 2006-2007 team was expected to do even less, picked by most prognosticators to finish second to last in the Big East. But with a win over 23 ranked Maryland earlier this week, and its only loss a 2-point decision to 15 Butler, Mike Brey's guys were beginning to feel good about themselves. Still, they knew the Tide would be their toughest test yet.

Trailing from the outset, a capacity crowd consisting mostly of green shirted Notre Dame students urged the Irish to finish the first half with a fury and at the break, the teams were tied at 49.

With Irish junior Russell Carter playing the game of his life, the Irish, behind poised passing and precision defense, seemed to have the Tide demobilized as Notre Dame, on Kyle McAlarney's (20 pts on 7 of 9 shooting) 12-foot jumper went up 85-75 with four minutes to play.

But suddenly, three consecutive Irish turnovers lead to three straight 'Bama baskets, and the once safe lead was only three points with three long minutes left to play. With visions of last year's close losses surely dancing in his head, Mike Brey called a timeout to compose his troops -- only to see the Irish really throw it away again. But just as coach's turtleneck began to tighten, Carter bailed him out, hitting an amazing fall away 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer. Then, after two more 3-pointers, including another bomb by Carter (who finished with a career high 27), the only distress Notre Dame would face the rest of the way was when the Irish's Zach Hillesland missed two free throws with five seconds left, denying them the chance to be the first team to "hang a hundred" on the Crimson Tide in nearly three years. But this was merely the disappointment of the confident, and as the clock hit triple zeros and the students stormed the floor, Coach Brey couldn't have been happier.

"As much as this week (with two victories over ranked teams) means ... think back to how we've prepared ... as a group and how much they've grown up. It was great to see them finish with a little bit of swagger," Coach Brey concluded, and, now with a 7-1 record, the Irish have earned more TV time, and the nation will not have to wait until next Fall to see more shots of Our Lady on the Dome, "3-Point" Jesus on the library wall, and of course, the Immaculate Conception at the Grotto.


Anonymous said...

I have to tell you, I just won lottery tickets to the Villanova-Notre Dame game on Jan. 17, and for the first time in my life, I'm not rooting for ND. Sorry, but you know how it goes...

But hey, in reality Villanova is a much more Irish school than ND, since it was actually started by Irishmen :)

Tom O'Toole said...

That's OK if you root for 'Nova -- Notre Dame's main apostolate is football and BC is their only Div.I Catholic rival there. No wonder Knute didn't like playing other Catholic schools ... you might like the chapter in my book Champions of Faith where Coach Ray Meyer (DePaul) talked about playing against the Irish.