Texas has dominated on the defensive end of the floor to open the season, but hasn’t faced a team with offensive options like Notre Dame.
The sixth-ranked Longhorns face their first serious challenge when they meet the No. 8 Irish for the first time in six years in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational on Tuesday.
Texas (3-0) had little trouble beating St. Joseph’s 68-50 on Monday in its first Maui appearance since finishing third in the 2004 event. The Longhorns held the Hawks to 29.3 percent shooting, including 4-for-21 from 3-point range while forcing 18 turnovers.
“This team has been really focused on playing defense, trying to get stops, and that’s a good thing,” said senior guard A.J. Abrams of the Longhorns, whose opponents are shooting 29.9 percent and scoring 46.3 points per contest.
Things could be more difficult against Notre Dame (3-0), which shot 50.7 percent in an 88-50 victory over in-state rival Indiana in its first Maui appearance since a sixth-place finish in 1993 on Monday.
Tory Jackson had 21 points and fellow guard Kyle McAlarney added 18 for the Irish, who are shooting 47.9 percent from the field and averaging 82.3 points through three games.
“We were mature, took what the defense gave us and made them take tough shots,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, whose team starts three seniors and two juniors.
This will be the first meeting between the schools since the unranked Irish upset No. 2 Texas 98-92 on Dec. 8, 2002 in the BB&T Classic in Washington D.C. The winner of this contest will play in Wednesday’s championship game.
Though the Longhorns feel they can survive a high-scoring pace against the Irish, they know they’ll have to improve on their overall offensive play from Monday’s effort.
Texas shot 42.9 percent and committed 16 turnovers in its lowest scoring game of the season.
“Defensively we gave the effort we wanted and we got good play off the bench, but the turnovers were just careless mistakes,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “We have got to value the basketball. We’re too good a team to score 68 points. We can fix that.”
Abrams, who’ll square off with McAlarney in a matchup of two of the country’s better 3-point shooters, had 17 points on 6-for-13 shooting, including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. Damion James added 14 points, while sophomore Gary Johnson had 14 and 10 rebounds off the bench for the Longhorns.
“On offense, we just have to slow down and not play at 100 miles an hour,” said Abrams, averaging 17.6 points and shooting 12-for-24 from 3-point range. “We have to get efficient and get wide-open shots.
“We have to get down to 70, 75 miles per hour and read what the defense is giving us.”
Jackson was 10-of-17 from the field and had six assists, while McAlarney scored all his points on 3-pointers, finishing 6-of-11 from behind the arc for Notre Dame.
Reigning Big East player of the year Luke Harangody scored 14 points on 7-for-13 shooting with five steals in just 26 minutes against the Hoosiers. The 6-foot-8 junior averaged 28.5 points in his first two contests.
Texas went 4-3 versus teams ranked in the Top 5 last season, while Notre Dame looks to avoid a third consecutive loss against similar opponents.