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January 30, 2013

Irish slay the giant killer

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - A couple years from now, when he’s an established scorer for Notre Dame, Cam Biedscheid may refer back to this game as The Awakening.

Limited to 25 points in his first seven Big East games, Biedscheid scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half on 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc to help lead Notre Dame (17-4, 5-3) to a 65-60 victory over Villanova (13-8, 4-4), which was coming off back-to-back victories over No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Syracuse.

“You can’t really lose confidence in yourself, so I kept firing,” said Biedscheid, who entered Wednesday night’s clash having missed 12 of his previous 13 three-point attempts.

“One bad game doesn’t make you a bad player, and one good game doesn’t make you a great player. So I just keep my confidence and keep shooting the next one whenever I get one.”

Biedscheid - who was 5-of-7 from three-point range for the game -- was one of several key contributors as the Irish continue to “reinvent themselves” while sixth-year senior Scott Martin rested his ailing left knee for the second straight game.

Jack Cooley scored 17 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. Tom Knight, playing in place of Martin, scored 10 points following a 17-point performance Saturday against South Florida. Jerian Grant connected on 4-of-7 three-pointers to finish with 12 points while handing out 10 assists. And freshman Zach Auguste - called into action in the first half when Garrick Sherman was ineffective and Knight ran into some foul trouble - contributed four critical second-half points in Notre Dame’s decisive run.

“I love us big,” said Brey of his decision to play two big men throughout most of the game against Villanova’s towering front line. “They’re going to press us, but we’ve got to play big. We’re playing two big guys.

“We’re more physical. We fouled. We knocked guys down. I don’t care. We’ve got enough guys. You foul out? I don’t care. We’ve got enough guys to throw in there. The physicality we play with on offense and defense is really helping us, and when you have two guys in there all the time, it helps your physicality.”

But it was Biedscheid who shot the Irish back in front. Trailing by five early in the second half, Biedscheid made all three free throws when he was fouled beyond the arc, and then hit a three-pointer to give the Irish a 35-34 lead.

The Wildcats - led by Mouphtaou Yarou’s 20 points and seven rebounds - took a three-point lead with 14:00 remaining. But a three-pointer by Grant, a pair of three-pointers by Biedscheid within a 1:41 span, two baskets by Auguste in 52 seconds, and another three-pointer by Grant as the shot clock expired gave the Irish a 59-51 lead with four minutes remaining.

“They probably do as good a job as anybody not taking the first open three and making two guys play one, whether it’s in the post or someone driving,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright.

“Biedscheid hit the threes, but it was Grant getting in the lane that forced us to play him with two guys. Grant really controlled the game.”

Notre Dame built a six-point lead within the first five minutes of the game as Knight hit a pair of baseline jumpers. But 6-0 and 8-0 runs by the Wildcats gave the visitors a five-point lead before settling for a 31-29 halftime advantage.

Cooley made all five of his field goal attempts and both of his free-throw attempts in the first half to go along with five rebounds. He only made 1-of-7 field-goal attempts in the second half. But 11 of his 16 rebounds came in the final 20 minutes. Cooley also converted a critical one-and-one with 13.3 seconds remaining to ice the game.

“What more can you say about Cooley?” Brey said. “I have never seen a guy so relentless. He is going after balls…I don’t know how he has the energy to do it, but he continually does, and how he set the tone for us physically in the middle was just fabulous and amazing.”

Cooley, who had 16 of Notre Dame’s 32 rebounds, still had plenty of assistance up front.

“As coach said, we don’t want to let anyone out-physical us in our building,” Cooley said. “We watched some film of last year’s game, and they just pushed us around. There were some possessions where we got shoved and just fell down.

“We knew we couldn’t let that happen this time. You don’t think of Villanova as a physical team. But they have to be the most physical team we’ve played this season. The way we battled, I’m so proud of our team and the way we played out there.”

The Irish limited Villanova to 3-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc. Twenty of Notre Dame’s 24 baskets were assisted. After making just 3-of-12 from three-point range in the first half, the Irish were 6-of-9 in the second half.

“It’s fun watching a new vibe that we have,” Brey said. “I’ve talked about how sometimes your rotation can get stale. I think it’s fair to say we were a little stale with our rotation.

“But those guys give us life and juice. It has energized the guys who are playing heavy minutes, and it’s energizing to me and the assistants.”

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