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MEN’S BASKETBALL: Francis scores 19 points to lead men’s victory over No. 19 Huskies

Pat Leonard | Monday, January 31, 2005

For every coach in the Big East, the game plan for defending Notre Dame’s offense may have changed Sunday.Demonst-rating they do not live and die with the 3-point shot, the Irish (13-5, 5-3 Big East) struggled from long range but outscored Connecticut (12-5, 4-3) 38-20 in the paint Sunday to come away with a much-needed 78-74 win at the Joyce Center.”This is the team we said we were going to be at the beginning of the season,” Chris Thomas said.Notre Dame connected on 6-of-23 3-point attempts, but the team shot 42.6 percent overall and made of 14-of-20 free throws, all of which came in the second half.Torin Francis led the Irish with 19 points, grabbing seven rebounds and limiting Connecticut center Josh Boone – who averages 14.8 points and 9.6 rebounds – to six points and two rebounds.”We really battled physically today,” coach Mike Brey said. “I’m really proud of our frontline. I think they responded in the Villanova game, especially Torin, but to do what they did on the backboard and scoring inside was a key to the game [today].”The Irish had 36 rebounds to the Huskies’ 41, a formidable showing considering Connect-icut leads the nation in rebounding.Thomas reinforced his belief in the importance of an established inside game.”We just want to make an effort to get our big [guys] touches, get them confident,” he said. “So many teams have been going inside against us, so we want to be able to counter that with our big [guys] having confidence on the offensive end as well.”Francis, Dennis Latimore (12 points, nine rebounds) and Rick Cornett (six points, one rebound) gave Notre Dame its first consistent inside-out offensive sets of the season. Francis, however, was the star against one of the nation’s top frontcourts in Boone, Charlie Villanueva and freshman Rudy Gay.”The perimeter has confidence in me,” Francis said. “They are giving me the ball down low. They know I’ll make the right decision if I get doubled, I’ll kick it out. If I don’t, I’ll take it up strong.”Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun did not elect to double-team Francis often, and in the waning stages of the game it cost the Huskies.With 2:44 remaining in the game and Connecticut up 74-72, Francis took a baseline pass from Thomas and flushed the ball down over Villanueva for the basket and the foul. The Irish center missed the foul shot out of the TV timeout, but the Huskies did not score the rest of the way.Connecticut’s defeat was sealed with 15 seconds remaining. Husky sophomore point guard Marcus Williams (10 points, 16 assists) stripped Notre Dame’s Chris Quinn but missed the layup to tie the game.Thomas made two foul shots to extend the lead to four and end the ballgame. Following a jumper by Connecticut guard Denham Brown (9-of-15, 20 points) with 5:07 to go, Thomas scored or assisted on every Notre Dame basket to close out the game. His 3-point shot to answer Brown’s jumper gave the Irish momentum and helped them hold Connecticut scoreless for the final 3:09 of the game.”This team doesn’t need my scoring,” Thomas said. “It needs my confidence. It needs my playmaking ability. And that’s what I did. I saw the opportunity there and I put in the dagger.”The Irish win snapped a two-game losing streak after Notre Dame dropped consecutive Big East contests to Georgetown (55-54) and Villanova (65-60) this past week.”We’ve kind of been all over the board with different people stepping up at different times of the season,” Thomas said. “But right now we have to ride what’s working for us, and we’re controlling tempo.”Notre Dame played a quicker tempo Sunday, going into the half with Connecticut up 41-39.