It’s about time we started talking about Zach Auguste and the second gear he’s found (again) come tourney time.
When we talk about Notre Dame basketball the past couple seasons, there are plenty of people who contributed mightily to its back-to-back Sweet Sixteen successes. Coach Mike Brey and his offensive wizardry? Of course the man deserves the credit. Do-it-all, NBA-prospect point guards Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson? No doubt the team wouldn’t have been able to achieve the success it has without them. Clutch, gritty players who do all the little things, like Pat Connaughton and Steve “White Steve” Vasturia, or players like V.J. Beachem who just hit big shots when it matters most? Without question, their efforts and intangibles and ice-water-filled veins help make the difference.
But there’s been one player who has been just as important as anyone to the success of the program during the past two late-season surges, and yet doesn’t seem to gain nearly the limelight or kudos that many others have deservedly received.
No, I’m not talking about Red Panda, although I think we can all agree that the Michigan and Stephen F. Austin games would have gone a lot smoother if she had just done a couple measly performances in Brooklyn.
I’m talking about Zach Auguste, the senior center who has shouldered the load inside, completely refocused his efforts, and been the driving impetus behind this team’s achievements for the past two months.
Yes, I know, Auguste earned 3rd team All-ACC honors after his regular season. However, the guy has simply cranked his play up a notch in the second half of the season, showing maturity, determination, and leadership during an up-and-down, inconsistent season, and that needs to be made known to everyone.
I’ll be the first to admit that Zach Auguste has, many times, made me scream at my television throughout his Notre Dame career. Boneheaded fouls, missed layups, a lack of intensity – I’ve had my share of gripes with him. Those gripes had intensified this season after seeing what he was capable of, considering he averaged 16.8 points and 8.3 rebounds during the NCAA tournament in 2015.
Now, after witnessing the past two months he has put together, I have no more complaints. I don’t know if Mike Brey finally pushed the right buttons or Zach simply corrected the small mental mistakes that were holding him back from being a consistent force down low, but he has left no doubt as to his legacy at Notre Dame.
For the first 20 games of the 2015-2016 season, he averaged a solid 13.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, and 53.4% shooting from the field. No doubt this was his best regular season to-date, but besides the double-double average, his numbers were not too overwhelming for the only true center on the team, with half of those stats compiled against the dregs of the schedule.
Then, Zach Auguste exploded. Starting with a 21-point, 12-rebound performance against Wake Forest on January 31st, Auguste has averaged 15.3 points, 12.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 60.1% shooting since, and has played smart, focused, gutsy basketball. No game was more indicative of this change than Auguste’s 19-point, 22-rebound dominance of Duke in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. Auguste was the best man on the floor in that game, and it wasn’t close.
Fast-forward to Sunday afternoon, and the CBS team calling the game couldn’t stop talking about Thomas Walkup and his free throw shooting, his passing, his stoicism, his beard, etc. I’m a big fan of Walkup and think he’s an excellent player, but it is an absolute travesty that Zach Auguste was basically ignored by the broadcasters.
Auguste put up a stellar 16-point, 15-rebound effort, shot 8 of 9 from the field (88.9%!!!), and somehow managed to not pick up one foul while doing so. Furthermore, the ball he pilfered from – guess who…Thomas Walkup – late in the game kept Notre Dame in it with a five-point deficit, and his rebound and attempted put-back extended the final play, enabling the Rexurrection to occur on the buzzer-beating tip-in.
Zach Auguste has simply been fantastic over the past two months, and I think it’s about time everyone started to realize that. The kid has a knack for stepping up at the end of the year, as we saw last year when he fearlessly dunked all over Kentucky’s NBA-laden squad of behemoths, scoring 20 and snaring 9 rebounds in that heartbreaking loss. He’s doing it again, and should be lauded for it.
If the team can continue to get him the ball in the post, and he can continue to dominate the boards as he has of late, this team is in a great position to proceed to the Elite Eight and possibly beyond. So let’s give Zach Auguste the adulation that’s owed to him, and let’s enjoy the last few games we get to see him play in an Irish uniform. We’re going to miss him next season, but for now, we get to bear witness to him peaking at the best possible time for him and for this team. And that, Irish fans, is all we can ask for in our basketball team and its senior captain and starting center. That, and, of course, fantastic vines of them dancing and rapping.
Go Irish, beat Badgers!