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Effort on ‘D’ needs to improve

Andrew Soukup | Tuesday, January 20, 2004

In two straight games against two ranked teams, Notre Dame has appeared more than willing to step aside and let its opponents do what they will.

Easy lay-up? It’s yours. Loose ball? You can have it. Want a rebound? Here’s a space to jump from. In fact, in back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the Irish have surrendered more than 40 points in the paint each time and allowed both opponents to shoot over 48 percent from the field.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier. After the Irish (8-5 overall, 2-2 in the Big East) travel to Virginia Tech (8-6, 1-2) tonight, Notre Dame plays six ranked teams in nine games. So far this year, the Irish are 0-3 against foes ranked in the top 25.

“They’re really, really good,” Irish coach Mike Brey said of Syracuse Saturday night. “We’re not in that ballpark, and we may not be in that ballpark this season.

“But there are some things we can do better.”

It begins with Notre Dame’s defensive effort. Under Brey, the Irish have always been a team that relied on outscoring teams to beat them. And the Irish coach was satisfied with his team’s offensive output against the Orangemen.

But the Irish have displayed an inability to lock down on defense in tough games or to weather runs opposing teams pile on. The Irish are ranked last in the Big East in opponent’s field goal and 3-point percentage and have the league’s third-worst turnover ratio.

“I don’t think this team does the tough stuff that other teams do,” senior Torrian Jones said. “We are kind of considered one of the pretty boy teams of the Big East, and other teams feel that we try to outscore everybody, and that’s the mindset we have going into

the game. We can’t do that.”

The presence of a healthy Tom Timmermans, who recorded career-highs in both minutes (32) and points (16) Saturday after missing five games with back spasms, may give Brey another option alongside Torin Francis in the paint. And with Timmermans performing as the most consistent player against the Orangemen – both on offense and defense – that squeezed Jordan Cornette and Rick Cornett mostly out of the lineup.

“Getting something out of [Cornette and Cornett] is something we need to work on,” Brey said. “We need some juice out of that.”

But how much remains up in the air. Cornette played a season-low 10 minutes Saturday and Cornett, after sitting out the second half against Villanova and the entire game at Pittsburgh, played just three first-half minutes against Syracuse. Neither player scored, either.

That means Brey could move Timmermans into the lineup more to give the Irish a more physical presence inside.

“I think it’s just the other teams are being tougher than us as of right now,” Timmermans said. “We’ve had some games where we’ve played tough, but [against Syracuse] we got pushed around on the backboard.”

Brey has always emphasized offense, but that approach may change with Notre Dame’s struggles against ranked teams. All season long, the Irish have countered multiple baskets by opposing teams by believing they can hit a big shot to stop the momentum. But Notre Dame’s defensive disappointments have led Brey to say the Irish have to recommit themselves to their defense.

“We have to step up,” guard Chris Quinn said. “From guards to big guys to wings, from the first guy to the 13th guy, we have to step it up.

“Things will be tougher for us before they get better.”