NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Late in the second half of Notre Dame's drama-free exhibition against Catholic University on Saturday night at the Joyce Center, Ben Hansbrough simultaneously made a statement and presented a preview.
Free to roam on the left wing and run the Irish offense, Hansbrough turned into a dervish of whirl, slicing toward the basket, spinning off a defender, scooping an off-balance lay-up at the rim. The shot missed, but Hansbrough didn't miss the opportunity. He grabbed the self-help rebound to score.
Notre Dame needs more of that from Hansbrough this season, the veteran mixing aggression with a mid-range pull-up jumper. There's little doubt the senior can provide it all. He finished with 30 points in Notre Dame's 72-47 rout of Catholic. Hansbrough connected on 11-of-17 shots, including 6-of-10 from three-point range.
That stat sheet included a blown dunk too, Hansbrough rejected by the front of the rim.
Of course, Hansbrough put the rebound up and in.
"I was shocked," Hansbrough said while his teammates laughed in the players' lounge. "They should be (shocked too) because that never happens … except every time."
If Hansbrough promises to post career-high after career-high when the games count for real, Mike Brey will tell his veteran to start practicing missed dunks. Hansbrough has scored at least 20 points just three times in his Notre Dame career.
That figures to change.
After leading the Irish in scoring three times in the team's final seven games last season, Hansbrough looks ready to pick up where he left off when the season opens on Nov. 12 against Georgia Southern. In fact, Hansbrough appears ready to rise to a new level, just maybe not with his vertical jump.
"I think it's a big night for Ben," Brey said. "It's beautiful to watch. That's encouraging. I think that's a step for him, the development of his game."
The Irish enter their final week of pre-season practice with few questions, their rotation nearly set with Eric Atkins working as the back-up point guard and Jack Cooley the first big man off the bench. They combined for just two points against Catholic, but Brey said he's confident in what he has, especially Atkins.
"He's done everything we've asked," Brey said.
Joey Brooks remains the eighth man, but Brey hasn't seen consistency from the sophomore guard to know what he has. Mike Broghammer is a question mark but figures to develop into a low post alternative after coming back from knee tendonitis.
That means the Irish not only need more nights like the one they got from Hansbrough, but Scott Martin (10 points, nine rebounds in 30 minutes) must stay durable while Carleton Scott (seven points, nine rebounds, three blocks) and Tim Abromaitis (12 points, six assists, three rebounds) eat up most of the minutes. Ty Nash (eight points, four assists, three rebounds) rounded out the starting lineup.
"There are going to be some nights they're going to have to play a lot of basketball," Brey said. "Let's not kid ourselves, those are our men, especially early with what's coming at us. That nucleus is very confident together and has been through the battles together."
Those fights count starting next week.
In Hansbrough, the Irish have a guy ready to throw the first punch.