PITTSBURGH -- Notre Dame coach Mike Brey's calls to his mother, Betty, during the season focused little on her son's well-being and more on the state of his team.
"Very rarely did I get 'Hey, Mike, how you doing?' " Brey said. "It's like, 'Have you got them ready? Are they ready? I think we can beat Duke, Mike.' . . . She was intense."
It came with the territory for Betty Brey Mullen, an Olympic swimmer who briefly held a butterfly world record and instilled in her three children the tenacity they carry with them. Brey relied on it heavily on Saturday night, guiding the Irish to a thrilling 67-64 win over in-state rival Butler and a spot in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16.
Brey took the floor just hours after Betty died in Florida at the age of 84 after a heart attack. Brey still was in shock at tip-off but responded by doing what he's done since he slipped out of swimming practice for basketball camp when he was 9: He hung in there.
"It was kind of a tribute to her," Brey said. "It was really a special night." One that ended with the surging Irish (31-5) in the regional semifinals for the first time since 2003. They will play Wichita State.
While Notre Dame rejoiced in the locker room, its coach made plans to travel to Florida yesterday to celebrate his mother's life. Brey called his mother, a member of the 1956 U.S. Olympic team and later a swim coach at George Washington University, "an unbelievable woman, a woman ahead of her time and probably the real driving force behind everything I've done."