Practice not just about BCS Championship for Notre Dame

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Practice not just about BCS Championship for Notre Dame

With exactly one month until the BCS Championship, Notre Dame held its first bowl practice Friday as the team begins preparation for Alabama. But there's more to this month of practice -- interrupted by a six-day break for Christmas -- than breaking down what the Irish need to do to beat the Tide in South Florida.

As is the case with all bowl-eligible teams, the extra weeks of practice that come with a bowl bid are used to get reps for guys who haven't played much, or at all, in the regular season. That's no different for Notre Dame despite playing in the biggest bowl game of them all.

"We really think that weve got the nucleus of some great young players that are going to get a chance to develop in this time as well," coach Brian Kelly said. "Its going to be a little bit like preseason camp, where were going to have a chance to do a lot of fundamental work, were going to get some young guys running -- were going to see Amir Carlisle. Were going to get a chance to see some guys who havent played this year.

"Thats really exciting to me and our coaches, theres no question about that, as well as getting our guys' weight back up and getting stronger in the weight room and developing our football team and getting a little bit more (weight) on an Everett Golson. Those are really exciting because they move your program along. And then get a chance to focus on Alabama."

Carlisle, a running back who transferred to Notre Dame from USC but redshirted in 2012 with an ankle injury, is one of a handful of players who will get early looks for 2013 in the coming weeks. Gunner Kiel, who also redshirted, is among the high-profile players who should get a look as well.

But it's not just about guys who redshirted. Plenty of freshmen played, but not frequently and will get an extended chance to develop in December. One of last year's emerging stars from bowl practice was Stephon Tuitt, who emerged in 2012 as one of the nation's top defensive ends.

"From that point to the bowl game, it hit me to know about the defense," Tuitt said earlier this year. "It was all better, it was all comfortable then."

As for what Notre Dame will work on in preparation for Alabama, topping the list is red zone efficiency. The Irish scored on 79 percent of their trips to the red zone, good for the 78th-best rate among FBS teams. More concerning, though, is the offense only converted a red zone opportunity into a touchdown 46.5 percent of the time -- the sixth-worst rate in the nation.

It's no surprise, then, that Notre Dame kicked more field goals (19) on red zone trips than any other FBS team. That's something that the Irish recognize has to change.

"We definitely have to improve. We're not there yet, we don't feel like it," running back Theo Riddick said after the USC game. " coach Kelly is going to set up some things to actually let us score touchdowns, because we have to. We have to get better at that being in the red zone. We're going to do that, and we're going to be okay."

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

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."