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Men’s Basketball: From start to finish

Chris Hine | Sunday, February 4, 2007

Even though Notre Dame defeated South Florida handily at the Joyce Center Jan. 21, there are plenty of reasons for the Irish to avoid looking past the Saturday contest against the Bulls in Tampa.

On the year, the Bulls (11-11, 2-6 Big East) are 8-4 at home. Meanwhile, the No. 19/21 Irish (18-4, 6-3 Big East) have struggled away from the Joyce Center, winning just two of their six games on the road.

“We would be really na’ve and not very smart to think it is going to be easy down there. They’re healthier and they’ve played well at home,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said before practice Thursday. “Even though we’re young, we’re not dumb. Also, they’ve been marketing this game in their athletic department since August. This will be their best home crowd and they’ll be looking to get their hands on us.”

South Florida’s defense was also able to frustrate Irish guard Russell Carter in the teams’ first meeting. The Bulls held the Big East’s second-leading scorer to just nine points – well below his 18.4 points per game conference average.

“It’s a very tough place to play in South Florida,” Carter said. “A lot of teams have trouble down there.”

Last time the teams squared off, Irish forward Rob Kurz picked up the slack while the Bulls concentrated on Carter. Kurz finished with a team-high 21 points and 10 rebounds.

“I think the one thing about our team is we haven’t done all these special things to get one guy going if he isn’t going,” Brey said. “We’ve usually taken advantage of them taking away a guy or two and other guys have scored.

Notre Dame, however, may have to play without Kurz for the second straight game.

Against Villanova last Saturday, he exited in the second half with a sprained ankle and sat out Notre Dame’s 103-92 win at Syracuse Tuesday. Kurz would only shoot around in practice Thursday, and maybe practice Friday, Brey said. As of now, Brey said it would be a game-time decision as to whether or not the junior big man will play.

“I don’t want to play any more without him,” Brey said. “We need him no matter who we play in this league, but I also don’t want to do anything stupid and have this thing sore for three weeks. We will have to see how he is Saturday afternoon.”

Kurz is second on the team with 14.0 points per game and first with 8.8 rebounds per contest.

If Kurz sits out, and South Florida is able to contain Carter again, point guard Tory Jackson and forwards Zach Hillesland and Luke Harangody will have increased importance in the offense. The trio had no trouble contributing against Syracuse.

Harangody (21 points, 13 rebounds) and Hillesland (14 points, 10 rebounds) each set season-highs in points and rebounds while Jackson scored a career-high 19 points at the Carrier Dome. Jackson was also able to break Syracuse’s full-court pressure and get to the free throw line late in the game, going 11-of-14 from the charity stripe.

“You’re seeing a young man [in Jackson] who gets more confident every week. He became more confident last week when he knew Kyle [McAlarney] was not coming back and that he is the guy.” Brey said. “One of the things we’ve worked on is to put a set in to get him into the lane … I think we’re starting to learn how to use this type of point guard as a weapon.”

South Florida center Kentrell Gransberry hurt the Irish inside last time, scoring 23 points and grabbing 11 boards. If Kurz is not able to play, Notre Dame will have to adjust defensively.

The Irish could take an extra step inside in their man-to-man defense, or switch to a zone to prevent Gransberry from hurting them inside again – something that has brought the Irish success earlier this season.

Notre Dame was able to effectively shut down St. John’s forward Lamont Hamilton in the second half the Red Storm’s 71-68 win over the Irish last Tuesday. After Hamilton scored 23 points in the first half, Notre Dame switched to a 2-3 zone defense and kept Hamilton scoreless in the second half.