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Men’s Basketball: Nova to face Irish for second time on heels of road loss at St. John’s

Chris Khorey | Friday, January 26, 2007

After a week that included the news that its starting point guard had been suspended from school and a loss in the final seconds to St. John’s, No. 21/22 Notre Dame will try to get its season back on track Saturday at 4 p.m. against Villanova at the Joyce Center.

The Irish (16-4, 4-3 Big East) lost to the Wildcats (14-5, 3-3 Big East) 102-87 Jan. 17 in Philadelphia. Since then, Villanova has also beaten Texas and Providence.

“Villanova is playing very well,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “I don’t know if there’s anybody hotter. They put it on us last time.”

The Irish are also staring at a trip to Syracuse Tuesday. Because of the loss to the Red Storm and the tough game next week, Saturday’s contest is crucial for Notre Dame’s position in the Big East standings, where the team is currently sixth. Before the game against the Red Storm, Notre Dame was second in the Big East.

“One minute we’re second, next we’re six, but at that the end, we might be first,” senior guard Russell Carter said.

For Carter, just the fact that the Wildcats beat the Irish two weeks ago is enough motivation for Saturday.

“They just beat us,” he said. “A lot of things happened in that game that we wish we could have back. So now we need to get our redemption.”

That redemption will have to come without former starting point guard Kyle McAlarney, who was suspended from the University Monday stemming from his arrest on a marijuana possession charge Dec. 29.

Freshman Tory Jackson, who was thrust into the role when McAlarney was first suspended from the team in December, said he does not feel any added pressure despite knowing he’ll hold that position for the rest of the season.

“I’m going to take it the same way that I have been,” Jackson said. “Nothing’s changed.”

Jackson will continue to consult the point guard, however.

“I’m going to keep in touch with Kyle,” Jackson said. “He taught me a lot and I want to keep getting advice from him.”

Brey said the fact that the Irish are in serious contention for an NCAA Tournament berth and still have a shot at the Big East championship should keep the team focused after a distracting week.

“We have a pretty good résumé,” Brey said. “We’ve got a pretty good thing going and we have to continue that.”

The Irish allowed 102 points to Villanova in their last matchup, including 27 by guard Scottie Reynolds and 21 by forward Curtis Sumpter. Brey said improved hustle and rebounding will keep the Wildcats’ score down to a more manageable level.

“Loose balls and second chance shots early put us in a big hole,” Brey said.

Villanova forward Dante Cunningham and guard Mike Nardi also hurt the Irish last time, scoring 19 and 18 points, respectively.

“They’ve got a lot of bodies that come at you and they come at you with a bunch of quick, bouncy guys who can run the floor and get into the paint,” Brey said. “We have to do a better job of protecting the paint.”

Brey said the Irish may change defenses frequently Saturday to confuse the Wildcats.

Notre Dame is 4-0 in conference home games this year, but has dropped all three of its games on the road. Carter attributed the road struggles to the team’s youth.

The Irish have three freshmen who see significant playing time – Jackson, forward Luke Harangody and guard Jonathan Peoples.

“Our guys are still learning the ropes of playing on the road in the Big East,” Carter said.

Fortunately for Notre Dame, it will have the home Joyce Center crowd behind it and – for the first time since a win over Alabama Dec. 7 – Brey said he expects a full house.

“It should be a great atmosphere,” he said. “We need a little bit of the Alabama atmosphere.”