Men’s Basketball: The other Final Four
Chris Hine | Tuesday, March 31, 2009
This is it for Notre Dame.
No matter what happens, Notre Dame’s long, twisted season will come to an end this week. It could end tonight if the Irish lose to Penn State in the semifinals of the NIT at Madison Square Garden, tentatively scheduled for a 9 p.m. tipoff on ESPN 2, or it could end on Thursday, in either an NIT title or a loss in the title game.
This week will mark the end of a season that began all the way back in August, when Notre Dame took a preseason trip to Ireland.
“If you counted Ireland and everything, we’re probably into 125-130 practices,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “Coming together, going through the routine, stretching … I’ve never been into that territory.”
Remarkably, Notre Dame has been able to stay relatively healthy over the past six months, outside of banged up senior forward Zach Hillesland, who suffers a different injury every game, and has avoided burnout along the way.
And to listen to the Irish, practices and the team’s attitude toward each other hasn’t changed much since August.
“Nothing’s really different,” Hillesland said. “We’re having a good time like we have been the last couple of weeks now. We’re having fun together. You look around the country and a lot of teams’ seasons are ending.
“Final games are being played, so we’re just looking forward to finishing our careers at New York City at one of the most famous arenas in the world.”
At that arena, Notre Dame will face a Penn State (25-11, 10-8 Big 10) team that was one of the first teams left out of the NCAA Tournament.
“[They have] great guards,” Brey said. “But it’s not like we haven’t seen great guards this year, coming out of the league we came out of. Really good guards, tough undersized big kid inside in [Jamelle] Cornley, who’s tough. But a confident team. They won 25 games. Ten in the Big 10. They go down and win in Florida, they’re also playing well.”
The Nittany Lions will likely be ready to face Notre Dame. Former Irish assistant Lewis Preston is currently an assistant on the Nittany Lions bench.
“There are probably no secrets,” Brey said. “Lewis certainly knows our program and our system.”
The Irish advanced to the semifinals with a win over UAB, a buzzer beater victory courtesy of junior guard Tory Jackson against New Mexico and a victory over Kentucky, in the last game coached for the Wildcats by Billy Gillispie.
If the Irish win, they’ll face either Baylor or San Diego State on Thursday at 7 p.m., also on ESPN 2.
“I’m excited that we got out [The Joyce Center] with a win and I want to end it with another win,” Irish senior guard Kyle McAlarney said. “The fact that we are very close to doing that is very exciting. We fought and clawed to get to this position, so there really is a sense of accomplishment for us to get to New York, but now it’s a whole different monster and we have to win two games. To end it on that note in New York City, that’ll be very special.”