In my 25 years of existence, I never had moments like I had this past Saturday.
First there was the Notre Dame - UCONN game. With a fairly comfortable eight point lead and just over eight minutes left, Mike Brey decided to put Ben Hansbrough in the game with four fouls. Ten seconds later Notre Dame's best player and emotional leader was back in the bench with his fifth foul. I received a text from my buddy a few seconds later, "Uh oh, ND is screwed! At least they locked up the 2 seed in the Big East..." Being the over optimistic super fan, I decided to berate that friend with a text condemning his pessimistic attitude and also telling him that our correspondence during the game was now over. I simply don't allow that negative energy in my presence during times like this, even if that negative energy was present via text message.
Next thing I know, led by Kemba Walker, UCONN went on a 13-0 run to take a five point lead. That's when conflicting thoughts started racing through my head. "You've got to be kidding me! Same old Notre Dame. Wait, this team is different, we'll get this. Hold on, I've read this book before. Screw it! WE GOT THIS!" I knew I was definitely in new territory because I knew this team was different than in years past. This isn't a team that is demoralized by runs anymore, this isn't a team that lets things bother them, like losing their best player and leader. Notre Dame proceeded to go on a 9-0 run and take a four point lead. But while the Irish had chances to close out the victory, missed free throws allowed UCONN to stay within striking distance. With a three point lead, UCONN came down with seconds remaining and for the first time I can remember it was another team fumbling the ball in the closing seconds with a chance to win the game, because ND forced the ball out of the UCONN's best player's hands.
This victory was all about a team. Kemba Walker scored over half of UCONN's points and his teammates didn't know what to do when he passed the ball when the Huskies had a chance to tie to the game with seconds remaining. When Ben Hansbrough, who had been en fuego, fouled out. I think there was a shock right away, and Notre Dame stepped up. Not just one player, but the whole team. Eric Atkins played composed and took care of the ball. Scott Martin, Tim Abromaitis, and Carleton Scott all hit shots, and Tyrone Nash took the game over by passing, shooting, playing D. Nash was truly the MVP of the game. That was just on the offensive end, on the defensive end the Irish managed to stop the run and make big stops as the game went on. Not letting UCONN take another lead.
When the final buzzer sounded I was more relieved, proud, and excited for a Notre Dame team than I have ever been. This team just keeps coming up with ways to win like I've never seen an Irish team to do before.
Moments later I made my way to the elliptical to watch the Villanova-Pittsburgh matchup. I was on the elliptical to try to get rid of this Buddha belly and to also calm my nerves while I watched a game that would decide if Notre Dame would earn a share of their first ever Big East championship (unless you count the 2001 Big East West Championship, which I don't). Never before have I watched a Nova-Pitt game so intently, and genuinely caring who won the game. Of course, that team was Nova.
Jay Wright actually had a good gameplan for Nova. He was going to use the Mike Brey formula for beating Pitt, the "Burn" offense. Unfortunately for Villanova, and for me, they don't have the shooters or the offensive efficiency to do that. I don't think I had ever screamed at a game so much that I didn't have a team in. However, this was the first time since the Bulls dynasty that I had a team with a legitimate shot at some sort of championship. So there I was, screaming at a Pitt-Nova game, with hopes of that first Big East Championship. Of course, since the basketball gods hate me, Nova eventually succumbed to a very good Pitt team. Giving the Panthers the outright Big East regular season championship. Stupid Villanova.
As the day turned into night I started to regain my optimism with the basketball gods. Purdue suffered a big upset at the hands of Iowa and then UNC upended Duke. That's when I started thinking, "Notre Dame has a shot at a one seed!" I don't think that thought has ever, in my life, crept into my brain. Then something amazing happened. ESPN pundits confirmed my feelings that I thought might have just been crazy. Notre Dame did have the chance to be a one seed in the NCAA tourney.
So, just in one day I experienced more firsts than I ever have with Notre Dame basketball. I hope as the next couple weeks come with the Big East and NCAA tournaments that we can experience a couple more firsts.