The Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball team has made significant strides in the past week.
Following a gritty double-overtime victory at Louisville and another good home win over the South Florida Bulls, the Fighting Irish seemed primed to continue their home court dominance against 16th-ranked Connecticut.
But after an even first half, where the Irish held their own, Notre Dame's offense was smothered out by an assortment of talented UConn big men.
The recent excellent play of young Irish guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant continued in the first half as the Notre Dame tandem combined for five triples, most of them coming when the Irish were in dire need of a bucket.
Plus, Notre Dame battled and scrapped on the defensive side to stake the home team to a slim 25-24 halftime edge.
In the second half, however, the UConn giants asserted themselves. This made focusing on open looks very difficult for a Notre Dame team who has already had trouble finding the net at times this year. And once the Irish started to miss, they found themselves in a one-and-done type situation. Notre Dame was just one-for-15 from behind the arc in the second half.
Hard-nosed Huskies center Andre Drummond latched onto 13 rebounds and monsters like Roscoe Smith made life berserk for the Notre Dame drivers while tallying 10 points of his own when the Huskies had the ball.
The Irish simply did not have an answer for the physical play of UConn forward Alex Oriakhi who continually clogged up the lane in the lopsided second half. He also refused to be blocked out on the offensive end, demonstrated by a bevy of crucial put-backs.
A deflated partisan crowd grew silent as Connecticut opened up an 18 point lead in the waning minutes of the contest.
Irish shooters looked exhausted after trying to hack through a forest of thick bodied UConn redwoods underneath the basket for 40 minutes.
The Irish trio of Jack Cooley, Tom Knight and Mike Broghammer simply could not match up, although Irish head coach Mike Brey stuck with Cooley most of the way.
The Huskies finished with a 43-33 advantage on the boards.
In the end, Connecticut prevailed 67-53, halting Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion winning streak at 29—same as the Huskies had done in 2009 when they snuffed out the Irish's 45-game home-court victory string.
Notre Dame does not have time to lament their situation as they must travel to Rutgers on Monday. The loss drops Notre Dame to 11-7 and 3-2 within the Big East.
It is imperative that the Irish finish above .500 in their conference if they want to have any chance of even being considered by the NCAA Tournament selection committee in March.
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