Notre Dame tops USC to move on to Miami


Notre Dame tops USC to move on to Miami

LOS ANGELES -- Notre Dame no longer needed anyone ahead of them to lose. All they had to do was win, and an early January trip to Miami was in their grasp. Nobody had to lose on Saturday night but USC, and Notre Dame made that happen, securing a spot in the BCS Championship with a 22-13 win over the Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

"We just find a way to win, week in and week out," running back Theo Riddick said. "That's our message."

Riddick was Notre Dame's offensive star Saturday, rushing 20 times for 146 yards and a touchdown. When the Irish needed yards, Riddick was the go-to guy, breaking tackles and garnering plenty of yards after contact.

That's pretty good for a running back-turned-wide receiver, who returned to the backfield for his senior season.

"If you want to know about the Fighting Irish, you just need to look at Theo Riddick," coach Brian Kelly said. "Here's a guy that was a wide receiver for me the first two years. We asked him to move back to running back, and in game 12 he manages (146) yards but broke countless tackles and got us the tough yards we needed today.

"You just look at his jersey after the game, there's no wonder why this team has got the toughness that it does."

Notre Dame's offense started strong, slicing through USC's defense to take a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Everett Golson looked calm and poised, while Riddick scrounged up a handful of important plays, including a nine-yard touchdown run late in the first. But Notre Dame wasn't able to pull away early, only managing field goals on a pair of promising drives bookending Riddick's touchdown and setting the tone for the team's offensive output Saturday night.

"I think not getting touchdowns came back to make it a little more difficult on us, and I knew it would," Kelly said. "Every time we had to kick a field goal where we missed an opportunity -- we're still in the process there. We're not there yet. When we start clicking down in the red zone, we'll be really good."

But the Irish didn't ultimately need to convert those red zone opportunities, although the collective blood pressure of Notre Dame may say otherwise. That's because the Irish defense once again locked down, only allowing a touchdown and two field goals to an offense that remained high-powered despite injured quarterback Matt Barkley spending the entire game in sweat pants on the sidelines.

After a shaky start, first-time starter Max Wittek settled down, completing seven straight passes and leading USC to 10 first-half points, keeping the Trojans within striking distance. Notre Dame couldn't capitalize off a Manti Te'o interception to open the second half, with Brindza missing a 34-yard field goal.

That interception, though, sparked a defensive struggle for most of the third quarter. Notre Dame and USC traded punts throughout the quarter until Golson hit Tyler Eifert for a 36-yard gain late in the period, setting up Brindza's third successful field goal of the game to put Notre Dame up by nine. USC only managed 24 yards in the third quarter.

"The entire game was managed the way we managed each and every game -- minimize the big plays, they had the one great completion late in the game," Kelly said. "We minimized the big plays and we ran the football, and our quarterback was able to manage the run game for us."

That big completion Kelly referred to was a 53-yarder to Marqise Lee, which set USC up on the Irish two-yard line late in the fourth. Even with Notre Dame leading by nine with time ticking away, the thought of a Trojans comeback was hardly far-fetched.

After a slew of pass interference calls on KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame stopped Wittek on a pair of QB sneaks, then dropped Curtis McNeal for no gain on the one-inch line. And when Soma Vainuku dropped what would've been a touchdown pass, Notre Dame pulled off another miraculous goal-line stand. Their last one led to a win over Stanford, which athletic director Jack Swarbrick saw as a benchmark for the team's title hopes.

"Coming into the year, I thought Stanford was the test," Swarbrick said. "I just think that in the past few years, they were more physical than we were, bigger and tougher than we were, and I thought that's going to be our benchmark. And when we survived that, especially the way we did, that's when I thought we had a chance."

Notre Dame survived Stepfan Taylor, and on Saturday, survived USC's goal-line efforts in the same manner.

Only this time, that goal-line stand is sending Notre Dame to Miami.

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After loss to Mavs, Wade says Bulls 'keep putting (their) hand on the hot stove every day'

Dwyane Wade sounded every bit like a frustrated 35-year old father when talking about the repeated ills and so-called growing pains of his Bulls, as they surrendered yet another game against a sub-.500 team.

Sometimes it's the New York Knicks whom the Bulls are offering temporary refuge. Or maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves as they are all-too-generous to roll out the welcome mat for returning figures to Chicago.

Tuesday it was the Dallas Mavericks, the second-worst team in the Western Conference, who stormed into the United Center and escaped with a 99-98 win, courtesy of Wesley Matthews' triple with 11.7 seconds left followed by him locking down Jimmy Butler on the ensuing possession.

Wade was forced to take a contested 21-footer that went awry, but the Bulls' ills went far beyond the last two possessions, when the Mavericks exploited their strategy yet again.

"Either you learn the lesson or figure out," Wade said. "Keep putting your hand on the hot stove every day.

"We just gotta figure out not to put our hands on that stove. And understand when we come in the kitchen, that stove is hot, don't touch it. As I continue to say, this is a very young team and they have to play in these games and have to go through these moments. The one thing you want, whether it's this year or next year, is to not make the same mistakes."

The Bulls are apparently insistent on touching the stove and keep burning themselves, the most recent time with the confusion or the bad strategy in defending the Mavericks' final offensive possession.

Deron Williams found himself with Nikola Mirotic defending him off a switch from Jimmy Butler. Not the quickest afoot, Mirotic gave Williams an easy path to the basket and Wade was the backside help, not wanting to leave Matthews on the wing for a triple.

But with the bench commanding Wade to help, Williams easily found Matthews for an open 3 as Wade had no help for his man. With the Bulls up two, one could see how Wade didn't want to leave Matthews.

"I'll have to go back and watch, but it looks like Deron got downcourt, Wade went over to help and we didn’t rotate accordingly," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We obviously need to do a better job of staying in front of the other end."

Mirotic was supposed to be brought back slowly in his return from strep throat, but he played the entire fourth quarter and 22 minutes overall, having lost eight pounds with his illness that had him miss four games.

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Their issues were game-long and have been seasonlong as the Mavericks were supposed to absorb a shellacking from a Bulls team that felt a 25-point beatdown in Texas last month.

Instead, they would've been happy with settling for an escape when Butler rose up over his college teammate Matthews for a 20-foot wing jumper with 22.8 seconds left.

Butler nearly added a triple-double and clutch moment to his growing resume with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds but was dogged by Matthews all night, the defender who wouldn't give him airspace, went chest-to-chest and even earned a technical foul when he felt Butler exaggerated some contact in the third quarter.

"He took away my space, wouldn't let me get to my spot," Butler said of Matthews. "Good for him. I should've did something different."

Wade missed 13 of his 21 shots, scoring 17 with five rebounds on his 35th birthday

With scoring at a premium, Robin Lopez had a season-high 21 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.

Six Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Harrison Barnes' 20 points and Seth Curry's 18, as Barnes, Matthews and Curry combined for eight triples — spreading the Bulls out and picking them apart defensively.

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

The energy was tardy to the party, as they shot just 41 percent in the first half but woke up a little in the third quarter — continuing their all-too familiar trend of half-hearted efforts against lesser teams.

And it looks like the ever-optimistic Wade is dishing out some realism, probably something that comes with the perspective of turning 35.

"You can't keep getting stressed out or frustrated. We've been going through this all year. We'll get back in in the morning.

"Once you realize who you are, you're better off. I sleep better at night. Once we want to be a better team and start winning games, we will. I'm not mad, I'm not frustrated, I'm not stressed. Just taking the hits."