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Breaking one more streak

Andrew Soukup | Friday, January 16, 2004

Since Big East play started, Notre Dame has been joking that they’ve been the streak-breakers.First, the Irish snapped West Virginia’s Drew Schifino’s string of 48 consecutive games with at least 10 points. Then, they snapped an eight-year losing streak against Villanova.Now, the Irish have a chance to end another one.When defending national champion Syracuse rolls into the Joyce Center Saturday, the Irish hope to halt a four-game losing streak against the No. 19 Orangemen.”It’s a frame of mind of believing that you can do it,” said Irish coach Mike Brey, whose team has lost nine of its last 10 games against the Orangemen. “[Syracuse is] a team that has done it more than us. One of the things we have to do mentally is try to convince ourselves we can be like that.”To beat Syracuse, it’s no secret that the Irish have to overcome Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. Although Brey said the Orangemen have been playing more man-to-man defense this year than they typically have in the past, the Irish coach knows that he has to prepare his team to face a zone for an extended period of time.”We just need to be patient,” senior Torrian Jones said. “The 2-3 zone doesn’t turn you over. It makes you play a little faster than you want to. “A lot of times, teams settle for a 3-point shot and don’t move the ball around to break down the zone. If we go inside and establish Torin [Francis] early and kick the ball out, we’ll get open looks for our guards for 3’s and open driving lanes.”What’s more, Syracuse’s offense creates matchup problems for the Irish. Although Carmelo Anthony was the third overall pick in the NBA Draft last summer after playing just one season for Syracuse, the Orangemen have had little difficulty replacing his point production.Most striking about Syracuse’s offense is that while guard Gerry McNamara makes 42.5 percent of his 3-pointers, the rest of the team has only made nine. Instead of hanging around the perimeter, guards Billy Edelin – who shredded the Irish for 26 points at the Joyce Center last year – and Josh Pace crash the basket play after play, scoring most of their points by cutting to the hoop. Notre Dame’s 6-foot guard tandem of Chris Thomas and Chris Quinn has had some trouble playing physical guards in the past.”It’s a unique way of playing,” Brey said. “Both [Edelin] and Pace are unorthodox guys. To their credit, they stay to their strengths.”On the other hand, Brey is anxious to see his team return to a student-filled Joyce Center for the first time since a loss against Indiana. Then, in December, Notre Dame had dropped to a losing record for the first time in the Mike Brey era and the Irish were reeling. Now, having gone 6-1 since that loss, Brey wants to see how his squad responds to a boisterous crowd.”Sometimes the energy in our building, we don’t handle that well,” Brey said. “I talked to them about using the crowd to our advantage. …”We have to use the energy to play defense and not try to do something on offense that’s not us.”Surprisingly, Notre Dame has had little trouble playing well on the road. The Irish rallied from a six-point deficit with three minutes left to beat Villanova and nearly snapped Pittsburgh’s two-season-long home winning streak.That road-warrior attitude is one the Irish want to bring into the Joyce Center.”We have a road identity where we are real focused on the road,” Quinn said. “We have to carry that over to our home court and use the crowd for different things to our advantage.”Saturday’s game is the first in a string of matchups against ranked foes. Notre Dame still has to play Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Syracuse again, Providence and No. 1 Connecticut twice. Beating any of those teams would help Notre Dame’s quality-win component and improve their RPI ranking, which was 110th in the nation this week.