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ND Basketball: Irish set to brawl with Washington State

Fran Tolan | Saturday, March 22, 2008

DENVER — Ding! Round 2.

After dumping George Mason 68-50 Thursday, Notre Dame is prepared for another postseason bout, this time against No. 4-seed Washington State Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Irish are most concerned with controlling the tempo of the game against the Cougars [25-8], who have allowed at least 80 points just once this season. The high-octane Notre Dame offense will attempt to impose its will on the flow of the game.

“I think it’s important to run on [them] as much as we can,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “It doesn’t mean we’re necessarily gonna force the transition but [we want] to make them change ends.”

Washington State coach Tony Bennett, meanwhile, said that forcing an opponent into a half-court game is “required” for success in March.

“The bottom line is we feel that system gives us the best chance to… make runs [in the NCAA Tournament],” Bennett said.

Even with Notre Dame’s emphasis on getting up and down the floor quickly, Brey said his team will not be helpless if Washington State slows down the game.

“We can play both ways,” Brey said. “We’ve had to play slow and fast in our league.”

In Saturday’s contest, the Irish will try to replicate the success they had against George Mason’s frontcourt, especially in controlling the boards.

“I don’t wanna get away from rebounding too much,” Brey said when asked about his main concerns for the game. “It’s gonna be even more of a challenge against this Washington State team… We have to be even better than we were last night.”

Washington State center Aron Baynes will be the biggest test under the basket for the Irish. The 6-10 junior leads the team with 5.7 rebounds per game to go with his average of 10.2 points.

“We’re gonna have to have a lot of different bodies on him like we had on [George Mason forward Will] Thomas last night,” Brey said. “…And you’re not gonna have a lotta help down there because we really can’t come down and help [a defender] because [the Cougars] are so good from the three-point line.”

On the perimeter, the Cougars are led by seniors Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver, who average 14.1 and 12.1 points per game, respectively. The Cougars are 11-3 when both Weaver and Low reach double-digit scoring figures.

Against Weaver, Brey said the Irish will use a similar defensive strategy to the one that allowed them to hold George Mason guard Kyle Weaver to 1-of-12 shooting.

“A key to their team like Campbell was with George Mason, Weaver is for Washington State,” Brey said. “He does many of the same things [but] he does them better. He’s bigger, he’s longer and so he’s even a tougher matchup than Campbell.”

Both Brey and Irish point guard Tory Jackson said Low provides the spark for Washington State’s offense.

“He’s a great floor general; he knows how to lead his team,” Jackson said. “He’s very tough and he knows how to score. We gotta stop him, and if we can stop him we got a good chance.”

If the Irish knock out the Cougars, they will earn their first berth in the Sweet 16 since 2003. And Brey said his team will fight to stay on its feet for at least another game.

“We’re certainly not satisfied knowing that we have a chance to move on and play next weekend,” Brey said. “It’s something they’re dreaming about earning.”