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Irish face another Big East test

Matt Lozar | Friday, February 13, 2004

If anybody thinks the Irish could have a letdown after their first big win of the season, just check the RPI standings.Seeing Seton Hall ranked No. 11 shows Saturday’s game is almost as big as Monday’s.After defeating Connecticut, which is around No. 8 in the RPI, the Irish (11-9, 5-5 in the Big East) jumped about 20 spots and now sit at No. 62. A win over the Pirates (16-5, 6-3) could help Notre Dame’s RPI. It’s also important for the Irish to carry over the attitude from Monday’s big win. The Irish never got down on themselves after losing six of eight and, for whatever reason, stayed upbeat during that difficult 48-hour stretch.Irish coach Mike Brey now has to figure out how to keep that positive outlook for the last seven games of the regular season.”Our body language was the best it’s ever been. I wish I could put my finger on it and bottle it because I would come back to it,” Brey said. “We stayed positive. We can’t get down. We have to keep plugging; there’s a lot of basketball to be played.”The Irish had just lost to No. 4 Pittsburgh after taking a 15-2 lead very early in the contest. Two nights later against Connecticut, the Irish stayed close to the Huskies the entire game and finally made a run late.The Irish continued to follow the game plan of slowing down Connecticut’s prolific transition game and shortening the contest. “In the Pittsburgh game, I think we ran out of energy and firepower. That’s not acceptable by any means,” Notre Dame forward Jordan Cornette said. “[Against Connecticut] we didn’t pace ourselves, but we played our style of basketball, our tempo. We worked for a good shot when we needed one instead of taking a bad one.”Despite taking 21 shots, guard Chris Thomas had good shot selection because the Irish needed his individual offensive creativity on a night without forward Torin Francis and an injured Chris Quinn. The 31 points show Thomas didn’t let his performance over the past four games shoot down his confidence, which his teammates never questioned.”I’m so happy for him. He was going through a little bit of a slump. A lot of guys started doubting him, but we never doubted him,” Notre Dame guard Torrian Jones said. “We went to him every single time down the stretch, and he delivered. He made big shots and I saw him do it every day in practice, so I knew he could do it in the game.”Besides Thomas breaking out offensively, the Irish played solid on both ends of the floor for 40 minutes. At times, the offense became stagnant, and the Huskies might have gotten an easy shot. The Irish only shot 39 percent and had five fewer rebounds than the Huskies. But they figured out a way to win, and that’s what they need to remember for the next three weeks.”I think we learned some things about ourselves on both ends of the floor that hopefully we can carry over on Saturday and see if we can get number six,” Brey said.Saturday’s tip-off is scheduled for 12 p.m.