Posted by BrianBoru at 3/26/2009 12:30 AM EDT
Madison Square Garden; here come the Irish. In a game that seemed to have a lot more riding on it than a trip to the NIT Semifinals, Notre Dame staved off a late charge against the Kentucky Wildcats.
Quickly out of the gate charged the Irish led by the wonderful play of Luke Harangody. It was during the first half that Harangody established a tenor of toughness - his teammates soon followed.
Closely behind Harangody, senior Kyle McAlarney demonstrated rare moxie on the defensive end, contesting the passing lanes and collecting a few steals. Normally a liability on defense, the lead-footed McAlarney seemed inspired by the tantalizing opportunity to return to his native New York.
After everything Kyle McAlarney has been through, it was a pleasure seeing him play this well. Every run in the second half by Kentucky was greeted with a three-point dagger by McAlarney. Tough kid. Good kid. Here's hoping he can close out his Notre Dame career by helping the Irish win the NIT in his hometown.
As halftime approached, I wondered if the Irish could continue to thwart the dynamic Jodie Meeks for the entire game. The answer was a resounding 'no'.
A cinch lottery pick should he opt to enter the June NBA Draft, Meeks finally began to unfurl his sinewy frame towards the goal scoring with alarming ease - also working his way around picks and connecting on several impressive long-range shots during the second stanza. At game's end, Meeks tallied 21 points.
Featuring two of the better players in the country, the Wildcats are a point guard and head coach away from being an excellent team. Good thing for ND; the Wildcats were merely a team full of undisciplined athletes - desperate for help from the sidelines.
Coming to life midway through the second half, Luke Harangody impressed me with his cunning ability to ward off post defenders with his burly shoulders. For as many people that doubt Harangody's NBA potential, there is no denying he has a tremendous understanding of the fundamentals of basketball.
Playing perhaps his best basketball all season, junior point guard Tory Jackson splendidly dissected the Wildcats defense while providing a pop of quickness, finishing with 10 points and five assists - most importantly: no turnovers.
Several valid points were offered by announcers Brad Nessler and Jimmy Dykes. During the first half Dykes remarked how the Irish would have won a few more games in Big East play had they been as involved with the loose balls before as they were this evening. I completely agree. In fact, I have been harping on this for the past few seasons. Another assessment offered during the broadcast, with which I also agree, was that Notre Dame was worn down far too often during the season. Well, of course, if you're Mike Brey and you elect to play only six or seven players...
On a night rife with positive thoughts, it would have been nice to see Mike Brey call one or two timeouts during Kentucky's big second-half rally. Having long ago dismissed the possibility that Brey will freely substitute players, it would have been nice if - as the next best thing - he would have called a full timeout, thereby stemming the tide and giving his players a breather.
An odd fact in a terribly disappointing season - Notre Dame has now defeated Indiana, Kentucky and Louisville for the first time in the history of the program. Incidentally, I will take this moment now to gloat as three of my friends - David, Raho and Weez - are Louisville and Kentucky grads respectively.
Speaking of Louisville, I'll go on record right now and say the Cardinals will win the National Championship in Detroit. Yes - the same University of Louisville Cardinals that Notre Dame thumped by 33 points just last month.
So get ready, New York - the Irish are coming.