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Men’s Basketball: Irish to face more challenges

Bill Brink | Friday, January 15, 2010

Notre Dame has seen both how successful it can be and how tough the Big East is during the first four games in the conference season.

The Irish (14-3, 3-1 Big East) travel to Fifth Third Arena Saturday to face Cincinnati (11-6, 2-3) in a game senior guard Ben Hansbrough said would be as tough as any league game.
“You go on the road in Cincinnati, that’s one of the toughest games to win in the country right now,” he said.

The Irish have won two straight games by two points or less, a one-point win over South Florida and a two-point victory over then-No. 8 West Virginia. The Irish led by 20 points at the half of that game.

Irish coach Mike Brey said he never expects to win conference games by large margins because he has been in the Big East for so long and knows how difficult the competition is.
“I think they really defended us well,” he said. “We had a hard time getting what we got in the first half.”

The Irish find themselves in a crucial point of the season: playing well but heading into the teeth of the Big East schedule. Brey said this team differs from previous squads in that it can continue to grow.

“I’ve always felt this team, more than many of my most recent teams, has the ability to improve all the way up to the end of February,” he said.

First on the agenda: defense, guard Tory Jackson said.

“Any team can score,” he said. “Who can defend 40 minutes?”

The Irish allow 70.5 points per game, just under last year’s total of 70.7. The Irish finished 21-15 and 8-10 in Big East play last season.

One factor that helps the Irish mesh, Jackson said, is the personalities of the players. Some are subtle, some are outgoing, but all contribute to the atmosphere.

“Harangody’s more of a trickster,” Jackson said right before Luke Harangody chucked a ball at Tim Abromaitis while he was doing an on-camera television interview. “It’s a lot of fun on this team. When you’re in college you got to have fun.”

The rest the team got over the break may also aid the defense. Jackson said the rest he got was important, but Hansbrough missed his schedule.

“I don’t like the break as much,” he said. “I like getting into a routine. I don’t like sleeping in ‘til noon.”

Regardless, they’re back in classes and the tough part of the schedule. Although the Bearcats are 10th in the Big East and are coming off two straight losses, they defeated Connecticut earlier this season and play tough inside.

“I think we want to carry over the West Virginia game plan. Can we not get shredded on the backcourt?” Brey said. “Cincinnati is one of those teams that gets to your lane and gets on the backboard. We’re going to have to do a good job of eliminating second shots.”

Six-foot-9 sophomore Yancy Gates will be a part of that presence. He averages 10.7 points per game and leads the team with 6.6 rebounds per game. Guards Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn lead the team with 12.4 and 11.3 points per game respectively.

Tipoff is at 4 p.m. Saturday.