Doherty suffers first two career losses in NIT
By BRIAN KESSLER
After leading Notre Dame to its first 3-0 start since 1988, Matt Doherty suffered his first loss as a head coach.
And it hurt. But he wanted it that way.
"It hurts. You can't go undefeated for your coaching career, but it hurts," he said following Notre Dame's 76-60 loss to eventual champion Arizona in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden. "I want our guys to hurt a little bit, because I don't want them to accept this."
While Doherty doesn't believe in moral victories, it was an accomplishment that the Irish even reached the semifinals. Notre Dame upset then-No. 4 Ohio State and knocked off Siena — two NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago — to advance to the Final Four of the NIT held on Nov. 24-26.
In the semifinals, No. 8 Arizona used its athletic ability and quickness to create turnovers and contest shots.
"I thought the key for us was definitely the ability to challenge shots and keep them off the foul line," Arizona had coach Lute Olson said.
The Irish only got to the line six times and made just three. The Wildcats, on the other hand, were 13-of-19 from the charity stripe.
"One of our goals every game is to get to the foul line and make more shots than they take," Doherty said. "Obviously we didn't do that and I think that was a factor."
The Irish also struggled from the field.
Arizona held Notre Dame to just under 40 percent shooting for the game and a dismal 7-of-27 from beyond the arc.
Arizona's Loren Woods had a lot to do with that. The junior center was a force in the middle, blocking a school record seven shots and pulling down 10 rebounds.
"Anytime anyone was taking a shot, they had one eye on Loren and one eye on the basket," Doherty said. "That hurts your shooting percentage."
Woods also had 13 points for the Wildcats.
"I thought it was Loren Woods' best game for us," Olson said. "He's been out of action for a year and a half, so it's going to take a little time, but I thought it was far and away his best game. You can see how critical he is for us, not only defensively, but also offensively."
Three other Wildcat starters scored in double figures, including Michael Wright who scored a game-high 22 points and had 11 rebounds.
"Michael Wright's a bull," Doherty said. "It's a unique mix of toughness and the ability to take a pounding, but also touch to go with it. He's a big time basketball player."
Freshman Gilbert Arenas had 15 points and Richard Jefferson added 13.
Troy Murphy and David Graves were the lone bright spots for the Irish.
Murphy scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Graves added 17 points. The two combined for 40 of the Irish's 63 field goal attempts and kept the Irish in the game.
Notre Dame trailed by just seven at the break, but Arizona pushed its lead to as many as 18 in the second half and cruised to victory.
The Irish returned to action on Nov. 26 to take on No. 24 Maryland in the consolation game of the Preseason NIT.
The Terps raced out to a 13-2 lead in the first two and half minutes of the game and threatened to blow out the Irish in second half, leading by as many as 18 at one point. Notre Dame, however, battled back and cut the lead to one late in the game, thanks to the strong play of Murphy and some clutch three point shooting. Murphy scored a game high 25 points and the Irish converted five straight three pointers during one stretch to keep the Irish in the game.
Maryland proved to be too much for Notre Dame, however, and finally won the game 72-67.
Matt Carroll and Martin Ingelsby each scored 11 points and Jimmy Dillon dished out nine assists, but the Terps' Juan Dixon and Danny Miller made some clutch free throws to seal the victory.
All five Maryland players scored in double figures, including Lonny Baxter who dominated under the boards. Baxter scored 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting and pulled down 14 rebounds to pace the Terapins.
Notre Dame (3-2) looks to return to its winning ways tonight when they take on intrastate rival Indiana in Bloomington at 8 p.m. Indiana leads the series 43-19.
All Sports Stories for Tuesday, November 30, 1999