Bend-don't-break defense suits Irish perfectly at Oklahoma

926639.png

Bend-don't-break defense suits Irish perfectly at Oklahoma

NORMAN, Okla. -- Landry Jones looked in rhythm on Oklahoma's first drive, slinging passes around the field like a quarterback who would move into sixth place on the NCAA all-time passing leaderboard Saturday night. But that was all part of Notre Dame's plan.
The Irish allowed Jones to make all the short, quick passes he could in order to take away Oklahoma's quick-strike capabilities. Jones' longest completion was for 35 yards, his second-lowest longest pass in a game this year. Against Kansas State, Jones' longest completion was 27 yards -- and K-State won that game, too.
"It was a little difficult at first because it was very fast-paced, and you can't really simulate in practice as much as you try," safety Zeke Motta explained. "So we came out and just tried to find a groove and rhythm. We knew they would get some yards on us initially, but just to have that confidence as a defense play after play, get lined up and ready to go, obviously you're going to be tired a little bit. Once the play starts, you just go balls to the wall no matter what."
Notre Dame quickly adjusted to the pace, though, and locked down whenever Oklahoma neared the end zone. 
Jones threw for 356 yards against Notre Dame, but didn't come close to throwing a touchdown when it mattered. It took the Belldozer -- 6-foot-6, 254-pound quarterback Blake Bell -- to get OU in the end zone, and while that was the first rushing score Notre Dame allowed in 2012, it was the only touchdown the Irish allowed on Saturday.
Limiting an Oklahoma offense that had racked up 156 points in its last three games was critical for Notre Dame. Coach Brian Kelly understood the Irish wouldn't win a shootout. If the points started rising into the 30s and 40s, chances are, Oklahoma was going to come away with a victory.
"We were going to give up yards to keep the points down," Kelly said after the game. "We could not let the points get out of reach for us. This was the first time that we showed we could be on our own a bit offensively and put some points on the boards. But we could not have won this football game if the points got up into the numbers that were probably out of reach for our offense."
So Notre Dame's cornerbacks gave OU's receivers large cushions, forcing Jones to throw almost nothing but short passes. But the strategy wouldn't have been executed well without quality tackling, which Notre Dame's secondary certainly pulled off -- led by true freshman KeiVarae Russell. And holding Oklahoma's run game to 15 yards on 24 carries helped Notre Dame's case a little bit, too.
"It worked great," cornerback Bennett Jackson said. "We all stuck together, we all rely on each other, we got total confidence in everybody on the team and we stuck it out and had a great win."

Bulls can't answer Wesley Matthews' game-winner in loss to Mavericks

Bulls can't answer Wesley Matthews' game-winner in loss to Mavericks

It was believed the Bulls needed no extra motivation going against a Dallas Mavericks team that's a half-game away from being worst in the Western Conference.

The Mavericks gave them a 25-point shellacking in Texas last month, giving the Bulls enough film to make a horror show. Usually these instances even out over 82 games.

But this is no ordinary season for the Bulls, and the Mavericks again emerged victorious when Wesley Matthews got free for a triple on one end and locked up his college teammate Jimmy Butler on the other end, leading to a 99-98 Mavericks win.

It looked like another Butler special when Butler nailed a step-up, contested jumper over Matthews to give the Bulls a 98-96 lead, completing his 24-point night.

But Matthews was undeterred, breaking free on the wing for a triple when Dwyane Wade had to help Nikola Mirotic on a Deron Williams drive with 11.7 seconds left.

And on the final possession, the Bulls' spacing looked gummed up when Butler couldn’t shake free of Matthews, forcing him to pitch it to Wade, who put up a heavily contested 21-foot jumper from the baseline

It caromed off the rim, and the Mavericks danced happily off the floor for their first three-game winning streak of the year, this win completing a season sweep of the Bulls.

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

Butler scored 24 with 12 assists and nine rebounds but was 5-for-12 from the field as Matthews was in his chest all night. Wade had a strong fourth quarter on his 35th birthday but missed 13 of his 21 shots to score 17.

Six Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Harrison Barnes' 20 and Seth Curry's 18 as the Mavericks made 11 triples and had 27 assists, frustrating the Bulls.

With scoring at a premium, Robin Lopez had a season-high 20 points being guarded by Dirk Nowitzki — and they were necessary considering the Bulls were without Taj Gibson (ankle injury) and Doug McDermott couldn't repeat his 30-point showing from Sunday in Memphis.

Rick Carlisle has long been regarded as one of the top strategic coaches, and though he doesn’t have the usual personnel from the Mavericks' salad days, he had enough tricks up his sleeve to throw the Bulls off.

The Mavericks started Nowitzki at center, going to an almost all-small lineup. And though Lopez scored 14 in the first half, trying to feed him seemed to take the Bulls out of it in the second half.

The Mavericks played tougher and smarter with their personnel, and the Bulls got to see what happens when Wade or Butler can't save the day.

Bulls' Rajon Rondo oddly runs behind back of former coach Rick Carlisle

Bulls' Rajon Rondo oddly runs behind back of former coach Rick Carlisle

Is Rajon Rondo avoiding his former coach?

During Tuesday night's Bulls-Mavericks game, Rondo awkwardly ran behind Mavs coach Rick Carlisle as the third quarter was winding down.

Take a look at the play in the video above.

Rondo, who played with the Mavericks in the 2014-15 season, had a weird relationship with Carlisle. Most notably, he and Carlisle had a heated exchange during a game on Feb. 24, 2015 against the Toronto Raptors. It eventually led to Carlisle saying that Rondo was a bad fit for the Mavericks and that the team should have never traded for him.

On Tuesday, Rondo apparently shook Carlisle's hand before he checked in the game for the first time in the first quarter. 

All is well, it seems, but that was still weird.