Bulldogs' high-energy act wears on opponents

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Notre Dame boys basketball team has a simple strategy for success: Wear the opponent down.

With a rotation which can go as many as 12 deep, the Bulldogs' depth has allowed them to use that strategy to near perfection by beating state-ranked teams Festus and Salem on their way to a state final four berth.

"That's one of our strengths, our depth," Notre Dame coach Paul Hale said. "We want to try to make the other team where they may be a little tired. Constant pressure.

"The last two ball games that happened. I feel they played a lot worse the second half."

Using a defense which relies on constant ball pressure, Notre Dame has six guards it uses almost interchangeably. Frankie Ellis and John Eric Klein typically start, with Mark Unterreiner and Kirk Boeller the first off the bench. Abe Dirnberger and Jacob Essner also see regular minutes.

No matter which guard pair is on the floor, the Bulldogs seem to be able to keep their game plan flowing.

"We play harder than anyone in our class," Boeller said. "People cannot keep up with our guards. Coach says go in there for 2 or 3 minutes and go as hard as you can."

That constant effort has led to a big scoring edge for the Bulldogs late in games. In the sectional round, Notre Dame turned a six-point halftime edge into a 78-51 rout. Notre Dame trailed at the half against Salem in the quarterfinals, but outscored Salem 33-20 in the second half on the way to a 60-50 win.

"Everyone accepts their role and pulls for each other," Hale said. "That's what it takes."

Notre Dame's depth is not only beneficial on the defensive end. While Bryce Willen's return has given the Bulldogs a top-flight scorer, Notre Dame still is able to spread its scoring around.

Three players average in double figures for the Bulldogs. Willen is averaging 14.6 points after playing in seven games this season. During the playoffs Willen is averaging 18 points. Alex Ressel is second at 13.1 points a game, and Jeremy Brinkmeyer averages 11.2 points. Three other Bulldogs average more than seven points a game.

Brinkmeyer said what makes the Bulldogs a good team is their unselfishness.

"During districts, when I got hurt, Kirk took my spot," Brinkmeyer said. "Everyone plays as a team. We don't worry about who's getting the baskets."

O'Hara, Notre Dame's semifinal opponent, statistically is a one-man team. But when the player is of the caliber of Celtics senior Marcus Walker, that is not always a problem. Walker, who will attend Nebraska on a basketball scholarship, averages 30 points a game. O'Hara only has one other player averaging more than five points.

While likely underdogs for today's semifinal, Notre Dame will just try to play its game and see what happens.

"Like coach said, just play loosey-goosey," Klein said. "There's no pressure on us, just go out there and play our game."

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