Observations: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Basketball Ends Road Trip With 80-68 Loss to No. 18 Virginia
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Observations: Notre Dame Ends Road Trip With 80-68 Loss to Virginia

Notre Dame returns home from its Virginia swing to a more manageable upcoming schedule and alone in last place in the ACC.

The Fighting Irish lost to No. 18 Virginia 80-68 Wednesday afternoon, dropping to 3-8 overall and 0-5 in conference games. It was their 27th straight defeat against a ranked opponent.

Here are some observations from the game.

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball junior guard Trey Wertz
Junior Trey Wertz and Notre Dame’s guards struggled before a strong second half. (ACC)

• It’s hard to beat Virginia without contributions from guards. To score on the Cavaliers, an offense has to catch them in a late rotation or burn them on a double team. That usually requires guards who are able to collapse a defense with dribble drives. Notre Dame’s group of four guards didn’t do that often enough in two games against them this year.

• In their first three halves against Virginia, Irish junior guards Prentiss Hubb, Cormac Ryan, Dane Goodwin and Trey Wertz combined for 17 points, shot a collective 6 of 40 (15.0 percent). There were plenty of open threes for them. Nearly all were clanked. A recipe for non-competitive games.

• The second half was a different tune, though. Hubb, Ryan and Wertz scored 33 total points on 10-of-14 shooting. They drew seven combined fouls and handed out five assists. Ryan attacked off the bounce. Hubb scored two layups out of a ball screen early in the second half. Wertz made two threes and had three of the assists. In turn, Notre Dame averaged 1.39 points per possession — an absurd number against Virginia.

• If the Irish are going to start winning, they need more from the guards. The second half was too little, too late, but better than the alternative heading into two weeks of mostly winnable games.

• Virginia’s defense doubled Notre Dame fifth-year senior forward Juwan Durham on most post touches, as it did in December. Durham’s progress as a passer has made him able to defeat those with more frequency. But Notre Dame didn’t make the Cavaliers adjust or sweat their strategy by missing 12 of its 13 three-point attempts in the first half.

• Notre Dame’s leading scorer and breakout star Nate Laszewski needed 70 minutes of game time on this two-game road trip to make a three. The junior forward did so on just his fifth attempt. Like Virginia Tech did on Sunday, Virginia often switched screens to take him away on pick-and-pops. When it didn’t, a defender closed out fast on him to run him off the line.

Laszewski’s three-pointer came in the corner, when his defender helped off him to crash to the lane on a Durham roll and a driving Wertz passed out to him. He ended with 12 points, eight rebounds and two assists.

• Defending Virginia point guard Kihei Clark was a problem once again. Notre Dame had issues keeping him in front when guarding dribble and allowed him to make some easy passes from the middle of the floor when it played zone. He had 12 points and six assists.

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• Durham, like in the prior matchup, was Notre Dame’s best scorer in the first half. All 10 of his points came in the opening 20 minutes, four of them on jumpers and the others from touches at the basket. His defense, though, was a struggle. He frequently gave ground against Virginia centers Jay Huff (game-high 18 points) and Francisco Caffaro in the post and lost track of Huff when he was operating on the perimeter.

• Three Virginia players not known for shooting — Clark, guard Casey Morsell and guard Reece Beekman — went a combined 5 of 8 on three-pointers. In going back through defensive film, those likely won’t be of too much concern for head coach Mike Brey, since Notre Dame was okay with allowing them to take open jumpers.

• Notre Dame played a tight seven-man rotation. Freshmen forwards Matt Zona and Tony Sanders Jr. didn’t enter until the final minute.

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