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MEN’S BASKETBALL: Road trip finally ends tonight

Matt Lozar | Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Irish can’t get down about Sunday’s heart-breaking loss at Georgetown.

The schedule-makers won’t let them.

Ending the three-game conference road trip, Notre Dame (12-4, 4-2 Big East) plays a confident Villanova (10-4, 2-3) team tonight at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.

“It’s a big game. They are coming off a big win,” Irish point guard Chris Thomas said. “We played well against them here, and they played well against us. They are a little bit short on personnel, but I look for them to come out with a lot of confidence, and I look for the same from us.”

This is only one game, but it’s an important one. A win gives the Irish a 2-1 mark on this road trip and lets them improve to 5-2 in conference. A loss drops them to 1-2 on the trip and 4-3 in conference.

That’s why the Irish can’t stay down on themselves.

“It is big. We bounced back after the Syracuse loss in a good way,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “So we are going to need to do that again against Villanova. We are facing a very confident team after they just crushed Kansas. It was a very physical battle here.”

The Irish beat the Wildcats 78-72 at the Joyce Center Jan. 8. The Wildcats played that game without Curtis Sumpter, who injured his knee in practice the day before the game. But Sumpter returned to the Villanova lineup one week after missing the game against the Irish and had 25 points in the Wildcats’ 83-62 upset of then-No. 2 Kansas Saturday.

Sumpter is second on the team in points (16.8) and leads the team in rebounds (8.1).

“He just creates match-up problems. They are a lot tougher,” Thomas said. “I think he gives them a lot of confidence. He’s their best player.”

However, now the Wildcats are missing Jason Fraser from their lineup. Fraser only had five points and 10 rebounds in 30 minutes of action against the Irish and his overall season averages don’t jump out from the stat sheet. Fraser has been injury-plagued in his three years with the Wildcats, which has been frustrating for the Villanova program.

The Wildcats have had to battle injury problems over the past three seasons, so this is nothing new. Combine that with Villanova’s confidence and that’s why Thomas expects tonight’s game to go down to the wire.

“Look for them to come out and shoot lights out, and pressure the ball and push it just like they did against Kansas,” Thomas said. “The next couple of games will probably come down to game situations and hopefully playing against Georgetown and the last couple of road games, we’ll be able to counter runs and be on our feet a little bit better.”

With a murderer’s row of opponents on the horizon – starting Sunday with a national television home game against defending national champion Connec-ticut – looking past a team as good as the Wildcats wouldn’t be unexpected.

But Brey feels his team won’t do that.

“We are not thinking at all about Conn-ecticut,” Brey said. “We kind of looked at this three-game road segment as one segment. We’ve got to finish it and then deal with UConn.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2.