On Saturday, UNC plays Notre Dame for the first time since the 2008 Maui Classic and only the 21st time in school history, a series the Tar Heels lead 16-4. While these two teams have not played each other much, there is a bit of history between the two schools on the basketball court. The meat of that history occurred during the Digger Phelps era at Notre Dame when the two teams played eight times. Three of those games came in the NCAA Tournament. Here are a few of the memorable ones in the UNC-Notre Dame series.
UNC 79 Notre Dame 77 - March 17, 1977 - NCAA East Regional Semifinal - College Park, MD
The Tar Heels run to the 1977 NCAA Championship game included winning three times in the East Regional by seven points or less and two games by three points or less. UNC knocked off Purdue 69-66 then faced Notre Dame in the Sweet Sixteen. The Tar Heels trailed by 10 at half but rallied to make it a 75-75 game with 1:16. Phil Ford, who had 29 points, hit a pair of free throws to put UNC up two but the Irish answered to tie the game at 77. Ford then drove for a shot(out of Four Corners natch), lost the ball then got it back and was fouled. His two free throws up UNC up two with two seconds left. Notre Dame had a desperation heave hit the back of the rim and UNC moved on to face Kentucky in the regional final.
UNC 60 Notre Dame 58 - March 16, 1985 - NCAA Southeast Regional 2nd Rd - South Bend, IN
Despite UNC being the #2 seed in the Southeast Regional, they were forced to play the #7 seeded Irish in South Bend, Indiana. To set the scene, the game was tied at 58 and Notre Dame's inexplicable happened. With eight seconds left Rivers dribbled the ball of the foot of Tar Heel forward Joe Wolf. Curtis Hunter scooped up the loose ball and passed it ahead to Kenny Smith for a dunk that sealed the win for UNC and sent the Heels to the Sweet Sixteen. Brad Daughtery had 18 points and 12 rebounds.had the ball with designs on taking the potentially game winning shot when the
Notre Dame 60 UNC 58 - February 1, 1987 - South Bend, IN
Notre Dame under Digger Phelps had built the reputation as a giant killer. During Phelps' tenure, the Irish beat the #1 ranked team seven times including the infamous win over UCLA in 1973 to end the Bruins' 88-game win streak. UNC's streak was just 16 games when the Tar Heels faced the Irish during the regular season in 1987. The Heels were also without the services of Kenny Smith who missed the game due to a knee injury. Still, UNC led during most of the second half before the Irish exerted control late in the contest and pulled the upset.
UNC 74 Notre Dame 68 - March 19, 1987 - NCAA East Regional Semifinal - East Rutherford, NJ
The Tar Heels didn't have to wait long to exact revenge on the Irish for the early February upset with UNC meeting Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament just six weeks later. It was third time in ten years the two teams met in postseason play making the Irish the 1980s version of Michigan State for North Carolina. UNC opened up a ten point halftime lead and held off Notre Dame to advance to the Elite Eight for a second straight season. Unlike the regular season meeting, Kenny Smith was in the lineup and had a huge impact on the game. Smith dished out 12 assists while freshman J.R. Reid scored 31 points which was just enough to offset David Rivers' 23 points.
UNC 102 Notre Dame 87 - November 26 2008 - Maui Invitational Final - Lahaina, Maui, HI
This was billed as a game between top ten teams and also a match-up between Tyler Hansbrough and Luke Harangody. Neither the game nor the player match-up really really live up to the hype. Hansbrough scored 34 points and Deon Thompson had 19 and 13 as UNC led most of the game by double digits on the way to a 102-87 win. The only thing that kept it was being a full blown thrashing was Notre Dame's Kyle McAlarney scoring 39 points on 10-18 shooting from three. For the game Notre Dame his 15 threes and still lost by 15 points. Just a testament to how good that 2009 Tar Heel team was.