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Men’s Basketball: Rested and ready

By Mike Monaco | Friday, February 22, 2013

After playing a pair of overtime thrillers last week, the No. 25 Irish could finally rest and recover.

Notre Dame (21-6, 9-5 Big East) squared off with two conference foes on the road in a quick Saturday-Monday turnaround, but the rundown Irish have had ample time to recover for Sunday’s tilt with Cincinnati at Purcell Pavilion.

“Much needed, really much needed,” Irish coach Mike Brey said Wednesday of the respite. “We took [Tuesday] off. We’ll go a little bit [Wednesday], not crazy, and then we’re going to take [Thursday] off, shorten the week up and then we have two days to get ready for Cincinnati. And then I love the fact that we don’t play until [March 2] after the [Cincinnati] game.

“This is really needed for us, probably just as much mentally as physically.”

With four games remaining in the standing-room-only Big East, the Irish are entrenched in fifth place, though they are just one-and-a-half games out of first place. Cincinnati (19-7, 7-6), meanwhile, has lost three of its last four games and has fallen to 10th place in the league.

While the Bearcats fell to Connecticut 73-66 on Thursday night, the Irish will have had five full days between games after downing Pittsburgh 51-42 on Monday.

“I can be a fan and root a little bit,” Brey said. “We’re always rooting standings down the stretch. Certainly when you have a win like we did Monday it’s nice to put that in the bank for a while and see what the rest of the league does.”

Brey said the Irish are eyeing one of four double-byes to the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

“[It's] very familiar territory for us heading down the stretch in the midst of maybe getting a double-bye,” Brey said. “We’ve been in that race before. Of course, our last four are very challenging.”

Notre Dame bested the Bearcats 66-60 on Jan. 7. Irish junior guard Jerian Grant spearheaded the Notre Dame attack with 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field. As a team, Notre Dame made nine of 16 three-pointers. Bearcats junior guard Sean Kilpatrick scored 15 points in the loss.

Brey said the key to winning games down the stretch will be powering through the inevitable valleys that come with the peaks. The Irish missed 18 of their first 19 shots against the Panthers on Monday and had three points total nearly 13 minutes into the game. Brey said the Irish have realized the importance of defense and rebounding when the offense is sputtering.

“The four remaining games are all [against] really good teams,” Brey said. “What I’ve liked – what I think we’ve come to grips with – is we’re going to have our lulls. We’re going to be unsmooth. Can we just go back and guard and rebound like that? And that’s hard. When guys’ offense isn’t going good will they do that?

“Well on the road the other night, Pittsburgh, there was the mentality ‘Boy, we better do that or we’re going to get blown out.’ … If we have our lulls we have our lulls. Let’s just rely on defending and rebounding the ball and [being] mentally tough to know that if it’s a close game, we’ve been pretty good in close games.”

Brey said graduate student guard Scott Martin, who has missed the last eight games with a knee injury, could be close to returning.

“I don’t know about [playing] this weekend but I think he’s really trying to make some progress toward a full practice – or going live five-on-five – on Friday, which would be a big step,” Brey said. “I don’t know if he would be really ready with all the time he’s missed and just two days of practice. I think we’ve just got to see a couple full days of practice. But we are making progress. I’m encouraged.”

The well-rested Irish tip off against Cincinnati on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu