HARTFORD - As I sat in my hotel room after Sunday's game, one thought consistently ran through my head.
"How the hell did ND just lose to Pitt?"
I was appalled after the game - and with good reason. The Irish started the game off with a suffocating defense that held the Panthers to two points in 10 minutes, got Pittsburgh center Marcedes Walker into early foul trouble, and managed to have a 22-21 edge on the boards.
But Big East basketball giveth, and Big East basketball taketh away.
Up 14-2 early, Notre Dame gave up a jumper and a pair from the charity stripe to Panthers guard Xenia Stewart, but looked to get right back on top with a strong traditional three-point play from guard Brittany Mallory to go back up 17-6. That was Notre Dame's last points for the next five minutes.
The Panthers clawed their way back in the game (pun intended) by simply waiting for Notre Dame to miss shots. And miss it did. Irish guards Lindsey Schrader, Melissa Lechlitner and Mallory combined to shoot 4-of-24 from the floor, including 0-for-6 from 3-point land.
Despite the atrocious percentage (14.2 percent for my fellow Arts and Letters students), Irish coach Muffet McGraw said that the shot selection wasn't the problem.
"They were all good shots. Brittany Mallory is our 3-point shooter, we want her to shoot 3s. Schrader had some wide-open looks in the lane. Lech's shots were all pretty good," she said.
So if you're already taking all the right shots, there has to be something that can be done to make this team better before Good Friday when the NCAA Tournament starts. And the solution is simple: Do the little things better.
In psychology, there is a term "gestalt," which means the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Case in point is Notre Dame's loss on Sunday. What cost the Irish the game in the second half was not doing the little things. Mallory missing open 3-pointers. The guards leaving Panthers guard Xenia Stewart open to hit game-deciding triples. Not boxing out Walker in the post. Forward Becca Bruszewski and Ashley Barlow committing two fouls in six and seven minutes, respectively. Lechlitner turning the ball over five times without getting an assist. (At least she was in good company since every Irish player who saw minutes had at least one giveaway.)
The other main issue with these little problems is how prevalent they have been all season.
McGraw has talked about wanting to make her team's 3-point defense better after most games this year. Back in October on media day she said it was a point of emphasis for her team. Even going back to last season it was a major problem for the Irish. And what did McGraw say was the final nail in the Irish coffin against Pittsburgh?
"[Stewart] hit those two 3s and I thought that was the game," she said.
Same crap, different day.
But it's not just the 3-point defense. Big men have pestered the Irish all season long. Walker might not be in the same league as Tennessee's Candace Parker and Connecticut's Tina Charles, but her 18 points and 13 boards made it seem that way.
Now, I'm not pretending that I know how to fix these problems mostly because that's not my job. I'm a sportswriter, not a basketball coach. McGraw, on the other hand, is. She has to find a way to make this little problems disappear come Tournament time if she wants her team to keep dancing.