Jan. 4, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) – Ben Hansbrough’s assignment was to slow down the NCAA’s leading scorer and make sure UConn’s Kemba Walker didn’t take over the game.
Hansbrough led Notre Dame with 21 points Tuesday night and helped hold Walker to 19 – shy of his head-turning 26.7 average – as the 14th-ranked Irish stayed unbeaten at home by holding off the eighth-ranked Huskies 73-70.
Walker had his streak of 11 straight games with at least 20 points stopped.
“He’s one of the best guards in the country. That’s a great challenge for me. When I see somebody as talented as him, I see that as a challenge,” said Hansbrough, who helped to force Walker into 8-for-23 shooting, including 0 for 5 on 3-pointers.
“He’s a great competitor. It was a fun night to play against him.”
Walker said the Irish didn’t do anything differently against him defensively. It wasn’t as much Hansbrough as it was his shot just not falling.
“I think I got every shot I wanted. I just missed,” Walker said. “I’m not saying he didn’t do a good job on me, he did. The whole team did a great job. I got shots I usually make. I just couldn’t hit them tonight. … I just missed some easy ones that I was making all season. That’s it. It happens. Not every night is going to be a good night for me.”
Tim Abromaitis, who missed three free throws in the final 19 seconds, added 19 points for the Irish (13-2, 2-1), who were without starting forward Carleton Scott because of a hamstring injury. Notre Dame is 10-0 at home this season.
“Kemba was well defended tonight. In my opinion, he was bodied tonight but that wasn’t what beat us,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said.
“We did not get the productivity we needed inside.”
And that would be a reference to Alex Oriakhi, the Huskies’ second-leading scorer at 11.3 points per game, who was held scoreless.
Hansbrough shot 7 for 16, led a key second-half surge and had five rebounds to go with his defensive effort.
“That’s a heck of a workout to guard Kemba Walker and then score 21 and make key plays,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
“Ben did everything you can do on the floor tonight and he even argued with his coach during the timeout. But that is our relationship. I love him. He makes me confident every day in practice.”
Walker had only four points at halftime but quickly hit a jumper and a backdoor layup as UConn (11-2, 1-2) opened the second half with a 9-2 run and closed within three points.
With Notre Dame nursing a four-point lead, Walker tried to drive through traffic in the lane and his shot attempt was swatted away by Tyrone Nash. Notre Dame raced to the other end and Hansbrough was fouled, hitting one for a five-point lead. Minutes later Abromaitis hit a jumper, Hansbrough went right through the Huskies defense for a layup and then made a steal and scored on another drive, giving the Irish a 64-53 lead.
Walker’s three-point play with 1:48 left got the Huskies within five points, and they trailed by just four when Napier made two free throw with 1:11 to go.
After an Irish turnover, Walker was fouled with 22 seconds to go and hit both to cut the once-seemingly comfortable lead to two.
Abromaitis hit the first of two free throws, making it a three-point game, with just under 20 seconds remaining. Walker then missed a tying 3-point attempt and Nash hit two from the line with 12.5 seconds left to make it 73-68.
Shabazz Napier, who had 18 points for the Huskies, made two free throws and cut it back to three with 10.6 seconds to go. And after Abromaitis missed two from the line, Napier’s long 3-point attempt with about 2 seconds left missed badly.
“I can’t be mad at him on that last play. He just thought he didn’t have that much time,” Walker said of Napier’s last attempt. “If it had gone in, nobody would have said anything.”
The Irish led 38-30 at halftime when Abromaitis hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Scott is averaging 11.9 points and 6.4 rebounds while leading the team in blocked shots (1.79 per game). He had started 23 straight games and was hurt late in Saturday’s loss to Syracuse. It’s uncertain how long he will be out.