On Feb. 22, 1981, Notre Dame men’s basketball had one of its classic “moments” under head coach Digger Phelps when it vanquished No. 1-ranked Virginia, 57-56, on a jumper by Orlando Woolridge as time expired.
It was the first meeting ever between the two schools, with 7-4 National Player of the Year Ralph Sampson the feature attraction for the Cavaliers.
Since then, the two schools have met 10 times the past 35 years on the hardwood — with Notre Dame on the short end each time. The 10-1 record (.909) by the Cavs against the Fighting Irish is the best winning percentage any opponent of Notre Dame has with at least three meetings.
The other with the 10-1 all-time mark is DePauw from 1919-23.
Just like versus Virginia, the Irish won their first meeting versus DePauw in a close finish (17-15) in 1917. Believe it or not, that game also was on Feb. 22, the same day of the 1981 Virginia contest.
The Tigers then won the next 10 in the series, the last on Feb. 23, 1923, and would never play Notre Dame again. That next season, Irish athletics director/football coach Knute Rockne hired future Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame coach George Keogan to take over the hoops team.
A win tonight by Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament also would tie the longest winning streak ever against Notre Dame men’s basketball — something current head coach Mike Brey was involved in on both sides.
From Feb. 7, 1988 through the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 16, 2002, the Duke Blue Devils defeated the Irish in 11 consecutive meetings. Brey was an assistant at Duke from 1987-94 in those first eight victories.
Then in the 11th Blue Devils victory in March 2002, second-year Notre Dame head coach Brey saw his Irish lose a late lead and fall to the top-seed Blue Devils, 84-77 at Greenville, S.C.
After that defeat, Notre Dame fell to 19-2 all-time against Duke, but as Brey would say, “the law of averages” began to kick in. In his next six meetings against Coach K and Co., Brey’s Irish were 5-1, including wins in the ACC Tournament each of the past two seasons.
The 10 consecutive wins by Virginia against Notre Dame began the season following the 1981 classic, when the 10-17 Irish program began a slide after the trio of Woolridge, Kelly Tripucka and Tracy Jackson graduated, while Sampson was still around. Virginia crushed Notre Dame 87-54 on Jan. 6, 1982 in Landover, Md.
“The Streak” also includes:
• A 75-67 loss in first-round NCAA Tournament action in 1990, with the Cavs’ John Crotty scoring 28 points against an Irish team that included LaPhonso Ellis and Monty Williams. It would be Phelps’ final NCAA Tournament game.
• The next year in Phelps’ final season, the 7-11 Irish held a 60-51 lead at home with 3:14 left — but lost 68-67 when Virginia’s Bryant Stith scored his team’s final 17 points while Notre Dame focused on Crotty.
• In head coach John MacLeod’s first season at Notre Dame, the Irish lost in overtime in the NIT final to Virginia, 81-76.
• Most recently, in its four-year history in the ACC, Notre Dame has defeated 13 of the 14 league opponents at least once. The lone exception has been Virginia, against whom it is 0-5.
Brey and Co. lost 68-53 and 70-49 in year one, 62-56 at home in a season where Notre Dame would finish 32-6 and advance to the Elite 8, 77-66 last year when it returned to the Elite 8, and 71-54 at home on Jan. 24.
Five games lost by an average of 14 points — and while averaging only 55.6 points against head coach Tony Bennett’s Pack Line defense. That’s not including a 61-41 defeat to Bennett’s Washington State Cougars in the second round of 2008 NCAA Tournament action.
Notre Dame athletics has a long, proud history of ending long winning streaks.
Snapping Virginia’s 10-game winning streak against the Irish might not be celebrated as much nationally, but internally it would provide an immense boost and sigh of relief.
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