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TMA: A night of close calls

1/5/2011

The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of last night's best basketball action.

No. 15 Notre Dame 73, No. 9 Connecticut 70: This game wasn't quite as close as the score line would suggest; Notre Dame was in control for large portions of the second half, until Connecticut made a late run to bring the lead within reach. UConn's second-to-last chance at tying the game came on a Kemba Walker 3 that, would any other player have shot it, would have been deemed a horrible shot. It was taken with too much time left on the clock and too few Connecticut rebounders near the rim to be considered advisable. But because Walker shot it, it looked like it had a chance.

That's a testament to how good Walker has been so far this year: He makes the inadvisable look savvy. Here's another: Last night's 19-point performance was the first time in 11 games that Walker didn't score 20 points or more. He's been brilliant. Duh. This is not groundbreaking stuff.

Also decidedly ungroundbreaking is the sinking feeling one gets when watching this UConn team play in its past few games. That feeling can be summed as such: Connecticut can't be a one-man team. It just can't. It's too hard in the Big East, with too many capable defenders and intelligent coaches, to expect to simply overpower teams with individual skill. Walker has to get someone else to help him on a consistent basis, and that hasn't happened. (To wit: Forward Alex Oriakhi, the team's second-leading scorer at 11.3 points per game, didn't register a single point Tuesday night.)

Still, it's hard to be too harsh toward Connecticut at this point. This is still just a two-loss team, and those two losses have come on the road against two top-15 teams. There's no reason to jump all the way off the bandwagon. But the suspicion most shared even as Connecticut was impressing early in the year -- that despite Walker's brilliance, this wasn't a elite, top-five squad -- feels pretty much confirmed.

As for Notre Dame? On Monday night, the Irish won the way they've been winning all year: with solid but unspectacular vitals. The Irish don't turn the ball over, get to the free throw line, shoot it reasonably well and grab enough of their misses. They aren't going to knock your socks off, and you're never going to mistake them for the New York Knicks, but you can't say that style isn't effective.

Everywhere else: Besides Notre Dame's quasi-close call with UConn, there were a handful of other near-misses (and near-flubs) by teams favored heavily in their respective games. Two came in the Big Ten, and the most drastic was Ohio State's shaky win at Iowa. The Hawkeyes led by six at the half, saw OSU build a 13-point lead with a 29-10 run to open the second half, then fought all the way back to within three with 24 seconds left. Aaron Craft made two free throws to preserve the win, but it was not the sort of dominance we've seen most frequently from OSU this season, and you can bet Iowa fans will be encouraged by their young team's pluck. ... Minnesota got all it wanted from Indiana and more, and the Hoosiers might have had a chance to force an unlikely overtime had the referees not given a loose ball call to the Gophers in the final seconds. ... Providence nearly nipped Pittsburgh; the Friars led by four with 90 seconds remaining before Jamie Dixon called his team together and told them "It's time," which is undeniably cool. ... Texas had no such issues with Arkansas in Austin. ... Baylor cruised past Morgan State. ... Missouri State got another huge MVC win; the Bears are now 3-0 in the Missouri Valley with wins at Creighton and Northern Iowa.