Huskies Win Battle of the Backcourts

Photo Courtesy USA TODAY SPORTS

Connecticut snaps Notre Dame's 17-game home court winning streak Saturday, 65-58

SOUTH BEND -- Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey rightfully believes his junior backcourt of Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant is among the nation's best.

Saturday afternoon at the Purcell Pavilion, Connecticut's uniquely talented duo Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright proved to be the best pair in South Bend.

In a back-and-forth entertaining duel, Napier and Boatright combined for 33 points and nine assists in a 65-58 upset over the Irish who had won 17 straight at home and 12 in a row overall.

The Huskies dynamic guard pair received a career-best effort from junior forward Tyler Oleander, who more than held his own vs. Irish all-league center Jack Cooley, scoring 16 points on an 8 of 9 shooting effort while adding seven rebounds.

"The two guards are really good and Oleander was fabulous today. That has to be his best game," said Brey. "I loved how we fought, it wasn't all going great for us and we were trying to figure out how to steal it, but they deserve it."

Notre Dame started hot hitting seven of 10 from the floor but connected on just six of its final 19 shots in the first half and followed with an 11-27 effort in the second stanza. Connecticut countered with a blistering 15-26 second half and shot better than 50 percent for the contest while out rebounding their hosts 34-28.

Atkins and Grant scored a combined 29 points but on an 11 of 30 shooting performance with Grant scuffling to a 5-18 outing and four turnovers, including one on a crucial drive late. Grant also missed three contested layups in the final minutes as Notre Dame saw a 58-58 tie conclude in a 65-58 final tally.

"He was trying to get us jumpstarted but might have forced a couple," said Brey of Grant.

Atkins hit a three-point shot and followed with a driving layup to erase a 58-53 Connecticut advantage but Boatright hit four consecutive free throws thereafter and after an Oleander miss on a fifth attempt, Napier knifed inside Cooley to poke away an Irish opportunity. The loose ball landed in forward Deandre Daniels' lap for an easy layup and 64-58 lead with less than 16 seconds remaining.

"The vibe was different than other nights, it was going to have to be a flat-out theft," said Brey of his offense that struggled to find rhythm vs. the Huskies ball pressure. "When Jack Cooley gets that rebound and it gets stripped (by Napier)…that was kind of the exclamation point on 'not tonight.'"

Cooley finished with 14 points and nine rebounds including six off the offensive glass, but he too had only intermittent success.

"We could never get Jack into anything around the bucket," said Brey. "He was battling all night and fighting. I felt because their guards were defending our guards really well, they (Atkins and Grant) couldn't really take over. There just wasn't a great rhythm to things, and if we did get it, it was going to be a really ugly win."

"It's a shame they can't go to the NCAA Tournament," said Brey of the probation-laden Huskies. "I think they're really good."

Notre Dame fell to 2-1 in league play, 14-2 overall. The Irish travel to Madison Square Garden to take on St. John's (9-7, 1-3). The Irish have lost two straight to the Red Storm in Manhattan including a 61-58 decision last February that snapped a program record 9-game Big East winning streak.

St. John's hammered Notre Dame 71-54 in 2011, one of just four league losses for an Irish team that attained a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"The reasons we haven't played well there is they pressured us, we turned the ball over a lot," said Brey. "They're going to play their zone, but they have a shot-blocker (Chris Obekpa) back there. We're going to have to make some shots."

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