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Men’s Basketball: Title Seeking

Andrew Gastelum | Friday, March 4, 2011

With one more game before the Big East tournament, Notre Dame has exceeded expectations — and its preseason No. 7 projected finish in the Big East — by locking up a double-bye at Madison Square Garden.

Heading into the last game of the regular season, the No. 8 Irish (25-5, 13-4 Big East) find themselves in great position to claim the regular season Big East title with a win and a Pittsburgh loss to No. 19 Villanova.

“We needed to prepare this week like Saturday is a championship game because it very well may be,” Irish coach Mike Brey said at his Thursday press conference.

Standing in Notre Dame’s way is No. 16 Connecticut, whom the Irish defeated on 73-70 Jan. 4 following a tough loss to Big East foe Syracuse. But this time around, the Irish travel to Storrs, Conn., a site that has not treated them well.

“We have not won in Connecticut since I have been here,” Brey said. “Our poise and concentration needs to be there for a full 40 minutes.”

The Huskies (21-8, 9-8) are led by Kemba Walker, who is the Big East’s second leading scorer, averaging 22.8 points per game. In the Huskies loss in South Bend, the junior guard led the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals but was shut down by Irish senior guard Ben Hansbrough while shooting just 8-for-23 from the field.

Meanwhile, the Irish are coming off a record shooting night (55.8 percent from the field) where they drained a school-record 20 3-pointers, with fourth-year forward Tim Abromaitis contributing nine of them in a 93-72 over No. 19 Villanova victory Monday. Abromaitis and Hansbrough each scored 30 points on a night that seemed as though they couldn’t miss. But even after the big win, the Irish remain focused on closing out the regular season strongly.

“All year long we’ve been able to move on pretty well to the next game,” Abromaitis said after his record-tying performance. “We know this is a great win, and a lot of emotions run into it, but we have a few days off here to get some rest and fire it back up for [UConn]. Hopefully we can end the season with a win there and keep the momentum going.”

In their last meeting on Jan. 4, the Irish duo of Hansbrough and Abromaitis combined for 40 points and held only two Huskies shooters to double-figure points. The Irish won 73-30. Senior forward Tyrone Nash also added 11 points, while leading the rebounding effort with seven rebounds. Nash also earned a double-double with 11 rebounds in Monday’s win, out-rebounding the Wildcats 30-19. The Irish are 21-1 this year when out-rebounding their opponents this season, something that Nash hopes to build on Saturday.

“We still have to take care of our business,” Nash said. “We have to go up to Storrs and beat up on Connecticut. As long as you do what you have to do, let everything else take care of itself.”

The Irish cap off their stellar season this weekend with a visit to Connecticut at 2 p.m. Saturday.