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Irish need to contain Beasley

Chris Khorey | Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Before Notre Dame even started watching film on Kansas State, the Irish knew who they needed to stop.

Wildcats freshman forward Michael Beasley, who is averaging 25.7 points and 15.0 rebounds per game, is already considered a surefire top pick in next summer’s NBA draft.

“He’s been doing great, getting a double-double every game,” Notre Dame forward Ryan Ayers said. “I think our defensive position will be very important against him.”

The contest with Kansas State tonight at 7 at Madison Square Garden in New York is the biggest game of the season so far for the Irish (5-2). The game, which will be televised live on ESPN, is Notre Dame’s last chance to defeat a “power” conference team before the Big East season begins after Christmas.

“We can make our name out here and let everyone know who we are,” sophomore guard Tory Jackson said.

The Irish have reeled off three wins in a row since losing back-to-back games at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, but the Wildcats (5-2) represent a major step up in competition.

“All these teams [we’ve played] are good, but when you play Kansas State at the Garden, that’s a different level,” Notre Dame guard Kyle McAlarney said. “I think everyone’s going to bring a higher energy to the game.”

The task of guarding Beasley will probably fall on Ayers or fellow Notre Dame small forward Zach Hillesland. Both theoretically have the length and quickness to cover the 6-foot-10, 235-pounder.

Whether they will actually be able to stop him from scoring, however, is another matter. Irish players said what is most important tonight is not whether Beasley makes shots, but what happens after he misses them.

“As long as we rebound and get efficient stops, we’ll be good,” Ayers said.

Rebounding has been an Achilles heel for Notre Dame this season. The Irish were out-rebounded in both of their losses and only beat Eastern Michigan on the boards by two on Saturday.

“When we rebound the ball well, we’re great because we can get out in transition,” McAlarney said. “But sometimes we forget to box out or don’t do the little things.”

Tonight’s game is a homecoming for McAlarney, who grew up in Staten Island. And since the junior missed last season’s Big East tournament after being suspended, he said he can’t wait to play in the Garden.

“I’m excited to see some familiar faces in the crowd,” he said.

After a slow start to the season, McAlarney has rocketed up the Notre Dame scoring chart. In the last three games, he has averaged 23 points per game and is shooting 63 percent from behind the three point arc.

The Irish have scored well on the inside as well. Forwards Luke Harangody and Rob Kurz are averaging a combined 31.2 points per game.

But Harangody and Kurz will have to take on arguably the two best post players they’ve seen this year in Beasley and freshman Bill Walker. Walker (6-foot-6, 200 pounds) has added 10.8 points per game to Beasley’s impressive statistics.

On the perimeter, Kansas State is led by freshman Jacob Pullen, who is averaging 13.5 points per game and has hit 11 three-pointers this year to lead the team.

So far, the Wildcats’ year has been similar to Notre Dame’s. Kansas State opened the year with three straight wins against overmatched opponents, then suffered a disappointing loss to George Mason in the Old Spice Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The day after that loss, they struggled against Central Florida before winning in overtime.

After an easy win over Rider, the Wildcats hosted Oregon in a non-conference showdown. The Ducks barely edged the Wildcats, 80-77.

While Kansas State’s athleticism presents a challenge Notre Dame has not seen yet this year, Jackson said the Irish are ready.

“They’ve got great players, but we’ve got a great team,” he said. “That’s going to be the difference.”