MAUI -- At the Maui Invitational, Notre Dame showed why it was one of the top 10 teams in the country, but in Wednesday's championship game, North Carolina showed why it was the No. 1 team in the country.
The Irish, who defeated No. 6/7 Texas Tuesday, fell to the Tar Heels 102-87 despite 39 points and a Notre Dame record 10 three-pointers from Irish guard Kyle McAlarney.
"They're an elite team. We're not that," Brey said. "We like to aspire to be that in time. Maybe, hopefully by the league season, maybe by February. We know where the bar is."
Notre Dame simply had no answer defensively for the Tar Heels, specifically Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson. Hansbrough, the reigning Naismith and Wooden national player of the year, scored 34 points and grabbed five rebounds. Lawson, a lightning-quick guard, scored 22 points, dished out 11 assists and claimed tournament MVP honors. Forward Deon Thompson also pitched in 19 points and 13 rebounds.
"I was disappointed, we did such a good job against Texas' bodies in the paint last night," Brey said. "We couldn't do it tonight and that's disappointing for all of us."
One reason for Notre Dame's trouble defensively could have been the condition of junior forward Luke Harangody, who scored 13 points despite suffering from flu-like symptoms Wednesday.
Even with Harangody not at 100 percent, North Carolina only led 46-36 at the half, but extended its lead to 58-43 with 15:15 left to play. After the media timeout, Hansbrough scored North Carolina's next six points. Then a 12-4 run, featuring a three from Lawson and a dunk from Hansbrough, gave North Carolina a 76-53 lead with 8:49 to play.
Then, McAlarney put on a shooting clinic the rest of the game, hitting shots from well beyond the 3-point line and with defenders in his face. Within a 3:20 span, McAlarney hit four three-pointers and scored 14 points and Notre Dame pulled within 84-73 with 5:15 to play. McAlarney shot 8-of-13 from 3-point range in the second half, 10-for-18 for the game.
"I just felt good. I got my legs under me. My teammates did a great job, especially [senior forward] Zach Hillesland. I have to give him a lot of credit. He did a great job the past three days of getting ball exchanges and setting good screens on my guy."
But as was the case all night, every time Notre Dame made a run, North Carolina responded.
"We were in desperation time and I was just trying to put some points on the board," McAlarney said. "But we can't win without getting stops and we can't come back without getting stops. It's as simple as that."
McAlarney hit another shot that would've pulled Notre Dame within eight, but the referees had called a foul on Thompson. Irish junior guard Tory Jackson missed the front end of a one-and-one. North Carolina then scored six of the next eight points.
Two more McAlarney three-pointers made it 93-81 with 1:57 to play, but time was running out on Notre Dame. A 3-point play from Thompson and a pair of free throws from Hansbrough gave the Tar Heels a 100-81 lead with 1:17 to play.
"We're not at North Carolina's level yet, but we can be," McAlarney said.
Early in the first half, Notre Dame did play at North Carolina's level. A dunk from senior forward Luke Zeller pulled the Irish within 24-21 with 10:17 to play, but then they went on a dry spell, scoring just five points in the next 6:40.
During that stretch, North Carolina grabbed a 40-26 lead. Brey said the lack of offensive production was more Notre Dame just missing open looks, instead of North Carolina shutting the Irish down.
"I think we missed a lot of clean looks. Clean threes. [Senior forward] Ryan Ayers and Zeller had a couple there, but they have to keep shooting them because that's who we are. We're a team that needs to knock down a good percentage of those when we get clean looks, especially against a team like this, where we're not going to be able to maneuver inside as easy with all those bodies."
Brey added: "We're going to need a few more of those to go in because we're going to need to score a lot against this team to beat them. We're not stopping them or shutting them down."
For the game, Notre Dame shot 32-for-78, 41 percent, while the Tar Heels shot 39-for-70, or 56 percent. North Carolina also shot 19-for-21 from the free-throw line
Brey said after the game that even though junior guard Jonathan Peoples and Luke Zeller didn't have an impressive stat line, they combined to shoot 6-for-18, he liked the aggression he saw from both of them
"He really competed. Jon Peoples, we need him to do that. He's not always done that ... Zeller has been doing that for us for the most part. I'm very happy with where he's at, and he has shot it well some nights and made some big ones, but he's playing like a senior and going for it."