Wiedmer: Notre Dame win caps a classic week

Wiedmer: Notre Dame win caps a classic week

February 11th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Until the final minutes of Saturday night I'd never heard of Garrick Sherman. Now the Notre Dame junior is my new favorite college basketball player.

That's because after playing not a single minute of regulation against Louisville, the Michigan State transfer scored 17 points over five overtimes to help the Irish stun the Cardinals 104-101 in one of the most entertaining games of this or any college hoops season.

Then Sherman delivered the kind of quote that will always endear a surprising hero to the masses, responding to a question of how he did it by saying, "I really don't know. It's something I'm still trying to digest."

Count U of L coach Rick Pitino as still trying to recover from the indigestion that comes with squandering an 8-point lead in the final 46 seconds of regulation before losing leads in all five overtime periods.

No wonder he took no questions afterward.

But the stats alone are hard to digest in one sitting: Five overtimes, which is also now the longest regular-season game in Big East Conference history. Sixty-six fouls. Eight foul-outs. Twenty-six lead changes.

In fact, it took so long to complete -- three hours and 36 minutes after a 9:05 p.m. start -- that it allowed Wisconsin's sensational 65-62 single overtime win over Michigan to remain Saturday's best performance, since UL-ND didn't officially conclude until Sunday.

"I talked about it being a 15-rounder and taking punches and being put on the mat," Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey excitedly told ESPN afterward. "At the fourth or fifth [overtime] I said, 'Has there ever been a 20-rounder?'"

Has there ever been a more exciting regular-season week in the college game than the one just past? Only Duke's last-minute win at Boston College on Sunday evening kept all of The Associated Press's top five teams from losing in the same week for the first time since 1992.

It started on Tuesday with No. 2 Florida's stunning loss at Arkansas. Then came No. 5 Kansas falling at terrible TCU on Wednesday, a Chaminade-over-Virginia-from-1982 type shocker that also delivered the best quote of the season.

Said a tight-jawed Jayhawks coach Bill Self that night: "It was the worst team that Kansas ever put on the floor since Dr. [James] Naismith [the father of basketball] was there. I think he had some bad teams when he lost to Topeka YMCA and things like that in the first couple of years. But for the first half, there hasn't been a team play worse than that offensively."

Yet the fun was just beginning. Thursday night began with Illinois shocking No. 1 Indiana with a stunning inbounds play in the final 1.1 seconds that created a game-winning layup.

Two hours later, UCLA overcame Washington and near-constant but immensely colorful criticism from the Bruins' own Bill Walton -- who was doing television commentary -- on a last-second jumper from Larry Drew II, the son of the Atlanta Hawks coach.

At one point, as only the smirking Walton can deliver a line, the greatest redhead in hoops history said of his struggling alma mater, "and there go the Bruins, slinking slowly back to their bench."

Imagine Peyton Manning openly criticizing the UT head football coach and you have some idea of the problems Walton is posing for UCLA coach Ben Howland these days.

Yet great as those moments were, nothing could top Saturday, when Wisconsin's Ben Brust hit a shot just inside the halfcourt stripe at the horn to force overtime against Michigan, then hit a 3-pointer with less than 40 seconds left in OT to topple the Wolverines 65-62.

It figured to be the highlight of a wild, whacky and wonderful week until the final minute of regulation in the Louisville-Notre Dame game.

But then Jerian Grant scored 12 points for the Irish in those final 46 seconds to force a tie, the Cards' Russ(diculous) Smith missed potential game-winning shot after game-winning shot throughout the OTs and Notre Dame stole the week, if not the season with the kind of effort that will be revisited for years to come.

Not that it should have ever come down to that. The Cards missed seven of their final 16 free throws in regulation. They inexplicably fouled Grant with 16 seconds to play in regulation on a made layup that would have still left the Irish one down without the foul.

Finally, Russdiculous -- with the Cards up two in the final 30 seconds of the fourth overtime -- inexplicably shot the ball with at 28 seconds on the shot clock, which allowed ND to force another tie after the miss.

Still, thanks to unlikely heroes such as Sherman -- who hadn't gotten off the bench in four of Notre Dame's last six games -- the Irish won it at least almost as much as U of L lost it.

"We just kept fighting back," said a grinning Irish coach Brey. "It's one of those magical nights."

It's now the exclamation point on what is swiftly becoming the most magical regular season in memory.