Notre Dame guards looking to regain form in NCAA Tournament
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is more concerned with getting guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia back in form after their recent struggles than whether the Fighting Irish face Michigan or Tulsa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
That's why Brey was happy Notre Dame (21-11) doesn't play until Friday in Brooklyn. It gave the Irish three days at home to focus on getting their game in order coming off their worst defeat in 16 seasons under Brey, a 78-47 loss to North Carolina in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
''I don't have to bring up anything with them. Those two guys are really hard on themselves. But for us to advance, our guards are going to have to find that rhythm that they had most of the season,'' Brey said.
Through their first 25 games, Notre Dame was averaging nine turnovers a game. Through their last seven games, the Irish are 3-4 and averaging 12 turnovers a game - including a season-high 18 against Duke in the ACC Tournament and 17 the following game against North Carolina.
Vasturia and Jackson said they talked to each other about how they personally need to be better with the ball.
''It comes down to really taking care of it, being sharp, paying attention to detail. So it's really got to start with us, the two lead guards handling the ball most of the time,'' Jackson said. ''We have to set the tone, set the example.''
Vasturia said he can't explain why the Irish have suddenly had a rash of turnovers.
''It's a long season. Sometimes you just have ups and downs. But it's something we definitely need to clean up,'' he said.
It isn't just the turnovers, though. Jackson and Vasturia are struggling with their shooting as well. Jackson, at 44.3 percent from the field this season, shot 32.9 percent over the last seven games and just 22.2 percent from 3-point range. Vasturia, a 45 percent shooter this season, is hitting 29.7 percent during that stretch and 19.2 percent from 3-point range.
Brey said he wants to avoid over-coaching Jackson and Vasturia.
''I want to keep them loose. I don't want them too hard on themselves. We've got to move forward,'' Brey said.
One area Brey planned to focus on, though, was playing better at the end of the first half. Against Duke, the Irish were ahead by one point 3:15 before halftime and turned the ball over five times as the Blue Devils went on an 11-2 run. The next night against North Carolina, the Irish were down five points 5 minutes before halftime when they turned it over five times during a 14-0 run by the Tar Heels.
''We did not handle end of halves well,'' Brey said.
Jackson said despite the struggles, the Irish head into the tournament confident, especially after last season's run to the regional final before losing 68-66 to top-ranked Kentucky.
''At any moment you can find your stride and it can really give you some momentum and keep you rolling,'' he said. ''We're looking to find that stride and take it into the tournament and get on a good run.''