Shabazz Napier

Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander power Connecticut to road win over No. 17 Notre Dame

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The Connecticut backcourt duo of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright combined for 34 points and nine assists as the unranked Huskies upset No. 17 Notre Dame Saturday in South Bend, Ind., 65-58.

Boatright and Napier have been the engine of the Connecticut offense all season and, despite a tough matchup with Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant for Notre Dame, they each scored in double figures and orchestrated an offense that turned the ball over just seven times. Atkins finished with 18 points and four assists.

The biggest key for Connecticut Saturday was to contain Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley, an early candidate for the conference’s Player of the Year award. It is difficult to completely shut Cooley down, but forward DeAndre Daniels and Tyler Olander combined to hold Cooley to 14 points and nine rebounds.

Olander scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Daniels had eight points and nine rebounds.

The larger story here, though, is the continued success that Connecticut has enjoyed under coach Kevin Ollie in his first season after taking over for longtime head coach Jim Calhoun.

That, combined with a mass exodus of players in the offseason and a postseason ban due to a low APR, and the Huskies were supposed to struggle. But struggle they have not.

Saturday they played with poise on the road against a Top 25 team, a team that was supposed to exploit a big weakness, a lack of depth on the interior. But the Huskies found ways to win by limiting turnovers and shooting 51 percent from the field in a tough environment.

Connecticut returns to the floor Monday against No. 3 Louisville.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

VIDEO: Duke’s Grayson Allen beats No. 7 Virginia at the buzzer

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Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia sparks come-from-behind win over No. 13 Louisville

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (32) goes up for a shot over Boston College’s Idy Diallo (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
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Demetrius Jackson scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half and Steve Vasturia scored 15 of his 20 points in the final 20 minutes as Notre Dame landed a 71-66 win over No. 13 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

The Fighting Irish trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half, but Vasturia’s hot shooting combined with Notre Dame holding Louisville to just 15 points in the final 15 minutes made all the difference.

The Fighting Irish are not as good as they were last season, but they are built in a similar mold. Jackson, as we expected, as become one of the nation’s most dynamic point guards, impossible to slow-down in isolation and ball-screen actions. Steve Vasturia emerging as a legitimate secondary option offensively and Zach Auguste is one of the nation’s most underrated big men and one of the most dangerous as the roll-man in ball-screens.

Combine all of that with a handful of shooters creating space and Bonzie Colson’s emergence as a force on the offensive glass, and Mike Brey once again has one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks.

Where they struggle is on the defensive end of the floor, which is what makes the end of Saturday’s win so meaningful. The Irish entered the day ranked 232nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which more or less means they’re as good as a bad mid-major program at keeping their opponents from scoring.

But they don’t have to be great to be able to win games.

They have to be good enough and they have to get important stops.

That’s precisely what happened on Saturday.

Whether or not that actually becomes a trend for this group will be something to monitor — it happened for Duke during last year’s NCAA tournament — but the bottom-line is this: Notre Dame does something better than just about anyone else in college basketball, and that’s score the ball.

On the nights they are able to gets some stops, they are going to be able to win some games. In the last eight days, they’ve proven that, beating North Carolina, Clemson on the road and Louisville.

And that makes them dangerous in March.