Notre Dame goes up tempo as it seeks to defend ACC title
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson pulled out his Atlantic Coast Conference championship ring the other day as a reminder.
''I was just reminiscing on what it felt like to cut the nets down,'' the junior point guard said. ''I just want to go out and have that feeling again with my team.''
The Fighting Irish (20-10) head into the ACC tournament this week at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., with the title of defending tournament champions, a title they've never held before in any conference. Coach Mike Brey doesn't want the fourth-seeded Irish to dwell too much on that, but he encouraged his players to wear those championship rings this week.
''Just kind of a subtle reminder,'' he said.
Notre Dame has shown it is capable of repeating, with wins against No. 7 North Carolina, No. 14 Louisville (ineligible for the tournament) and No. 19 Duke. But they finished the season by losing three of their last five, including blowout losses to Florida State and No. 11 Miami.
The Irish were averaging just 59 points for four of those games before beating North Carolina State 89-75 on Saturday, falling a point shy of matching an ACC-high score the Irish set when they beat the Tar Heels 90-82 in the title game last year.
The key to the swing in momentum was a change of pace, as Brey has the Irish working in practice with a 20-second shot clock and occasionally an 18-second shot clock. It's the complete opposite of 2010, when the Irish went to a ''burn offense,'' where they played a more deliberate style after leading-scorer Luke Harangody sustained a knee injury.
Brey said jokingly that the name for his new style for the ''Running Irish'' is the ''no huddle,'' saying he was trying to use terms Notre Dame fans would understand. He said the faster pace puts the Irish in attack-mode.
''I think it's very good for Demetrius. That was one of the reasons that I thought we needed to do it, to get him moving,'' Brey said.
Jackson said he likes playing at the higher tempo, but said that doesn't mean they need to play that way every possession.
''Realizing there are certain situations where we need to walk it up, make sure we get a really great shot,'' he said.
The change meant more playing time for reserve guard Matt Farrell, who also helped speed up the pace and added some pizazz with a backward pass between his legs to Steve Vasturia, who hit a 3-pointer.
''We're ballin' baby. We're ballin','' Brey said when asked if he was bothered by the pass.
Brey said the uptempo style will mean more players will have to get into games and that it might mean some ugly shots.
''Maybe we take some semi-bad shots. I don't care. We're going to go. We're going to roll,'' he said. ''It has us playing downhill, and we get some easy buckets in transition instead of playing against a set defense.''
The Irish say the run they made in the ACC tournament last season, beating Miami, Duke and North Carolina, gives them confidence.
''We've been there before, so we know what it takes,'' forward Bonzie Colson said. ''We've got to be smart with the ball, No. 1. We have to be able to defend every possession. We've got to take every possession serious. We've got to bring our edge.''
The Irish open tournament play Thursday against the Duke-N.C. State winner.