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ND MEN’S BASKETBALL: Bruin up a challenge

Bobby Griffin | Friday, February 25, 2005

This Sunday, the Irish will welcome UCLA to the Joyce Center for one of Notre Dame’s most storied college basketball rivalries. But this year there will be more at stake for the Irish than continuing a tradition. With the season winding down, and both the Big East and NCAA tournaments quickly approaching, the Irish cannot afford any setbacks.So while the Notre Dame alumni pack the arena, and the memories of the snapped 88-game win streak remind the Irish faithful of their glory years, this current Notre Dame team will have much more on their minds than celebrating the past. In the teams’ last meeting, Notre Dame defeated the Bruins 75-60 at UCLA. In that game, Irish guards Chris Thomas and Chris Quinn scored 21 and 20 points respectively on combined 15-31 shooting.This year, the game is even more important.With Notre Dame currently sitting at 16-8, and 8-6 in the conference, this is not the time for the Irish to simply resign Sunday’s game to its historical significance. “Our main goal is to get into the NCAA tournament, and with three regular season games left we’re in a good position where we are at right now,” Quinn said. “There is a lot of basketball to be played and we have to do a lot of things well to get to where we want to get.”With two Big East matchups looming next week, the Irish are going to need to pick up another quality win Sunday.”It would be a very good addition to an NCAA tournament resume that we are trying to build given the fact that they are a top-50 RPI team,” Brey said.UCLA has a talented, young squad, Brey said. The Bruins play well on the perimeter and have decent size down low.The Irish coach singled out forward Dijun Thompson as a particular player that concerns him.The 6-foot-7 forward, who Brey describes as playing much longer than his size, scored 39 points against Arizona State on Feb. 10 and is averaging 18.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.”Thompson is a tough matchup because he is their second big guy but he steps out on the floor,” Brey said. “It makes a guy like Jordan Cornette very, very important to defend that multi-dimensional 4-man.”On the other side of the ball, the Irish are continuing to search for a consistent balance between the guards and forwards.”I think it’s very important because when we play our best we’ve had a good balance of inside, outside,” Brey said. “We want to continue to work on that and get our big guys even more confidence. They’ve been there some nights and other nights they haven’t.”However, with all that set aside, Sunday’s game will still be a memorable occasion for many fans who do not make up the Leprechaun Legion.In Notre Dame’s 100th season, Irish fans from all corners will be in town for the game between the two schools whose paths have crossed many times before.After all, the alumni filling the Joyce Center will still have visions of Dwight Clay’s game-winning jumper some three decades later.”I’d like our guys to understand the history of Notre Dame and UCLA, and what it did for college basketball on television back in the 70s and 80s,” Brey said. “It wakes up a lot of memories for our fans that have been following ND basketball for a long, long time.”Quinn is one of Notre Dame’s players who understands the significance of this game from the perspective of those athletes who came before him.”It means a lot to people that have played here in the past because of how storied the rivalry is and some of the history behind some of the UCLA-Notre Dame matchup,” Quinn said.Sophomore guard Colin Falls echoed this sentiment.”There’s a lot of history with this game, it’s a fun game,” Falls said. “I know all the alumni are excited and that excites us.”But the historical aspect is only one side of this game, and the team knows there is a much more important goal that must be accomplished this weekend.While the players recognize the importance of this game to the program as a whole, thinking about history will be far from their priority Sunday. Instead, the Irish are choosing to focus on their immediate task – earning another quality win.