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Men’s Basketball: Inside presence arrives just in time for Irish

Pat Leonard | Thursday, February 3, 2005

At the beginning of the season, Notre Dame had an injury report long enough to resemble a grocery-shopping list.

Torin Francis – who insisted then that his back was 100 percent healthy – said Wednesday he has felt no pain this season that has hindered his play.

“I felt just as comfortable three weeks ago as I do now,” Francis said.

If Francis is telling the truth, a comparison of his performance against Connecticut to his play three weeks ago needs some sort of explanation.

“We just kind of changed our approach to the game,” Francis said.

He can say that again.

Notre Dame (13-5, 5-3 Big East), which previously was winning and losing games (West Virginia as the former and Georgetwon as the latter) according to its outside shooting, found a complement to its backcourt firepower last week. Francis – along with forwards Dennis Latimore and Rick Cornett – began forcing teammates to use the low post as a first option. Averaging below 10 points per game, Francis scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds in a 78-74 victory over Connecticut Sunday.

“Our post players have been playing well,” Cornett said. “We’ve just got to ride our strong man out. [Against Connecticut], Torin was really rolling and Dennis was really rolling down low, so we just kept going to them.”

Cornett played only six minutes off the bench against the Huskies, but he was as efficient as ever. Cornett shot 3-for-3 from the field and took a backseat role as Latimore made his long-awaited debut as Francis’ low-post complement.

The Arizona transfer, demoted to the bench after failing to show coach Mike Brey his worth at the power forward slot, sprung out of a slump to rip nine rebounds and score 12 points. The game marked arguably only the second time Latimore stood out for Notre Dame, the other being an 18-point performance on 7-of-13 shooting at Michigan Dec. 4.

“I felt like I could just give them some energy tonight,” Latimore said. “On the glass, I had some good opportunities to get some offensive rebounds and some defensive rebounds. Basically, I was just trying to do whatever I could to stay on the court and play.”

If it took that kind of desperation to motivate Latimore, so be it. But such a quick turnaround in the Irish frontcourt appeared sudden for a team that takes 38 percent of its shots from behind the arc.

“Early in the season we relied on our shooters, and it was cool because we were winning,” Francis said. “But when the Big East season started, [teams] scouted us and started to overpressure the shooters, so that really opened things down low.”

While the shooting of Colin Falls, Chris Quinn and Chris Thomas helps open the low post, the inside game begins and ends with Francis. If Francis attacks the basket the way he did against Connecticut, he opens operating room for Latimore and Cornett.

Judging by the collective attitude of the Irish frontcourt, Notre Dame’s offense could continue to thrive on a two-dimensional attack of outside shooting and physical low-post play.

“I think our guys have really been offended because every team that we play they talk about the other team’s big [men],” Thomas said.

A dominant frontcourt performance against Syracuse on Saturday could change that.