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ND MEN’S BASKETBALL: Final three games crucial

Pat Leonard | Friday, February 25, 2005

With three games to play in the regular season, Notre Dame (16-8, 8-6 Big East) has its fate in its own hands.The Irish will finish their schedule with three home games at the Joyce Center, a court that has been friendly to say the least to head coach Mike Brey and company this season.”Having our home crowd at our back is a big advantage for us,” Irish guard Colin Falls said. “We’ve been playing a lot better at home than we have on the road this year.”Falls makes a slight understatement. Notre Dame is 12-2 at home, losing only to DePaul and Syracuse, and 4-6 away from the JACC.”Since the Syracuse loss, obviously our biggest wins for our NCAA tournament resume have been on this court,” Brey said. As of Monday, Notre Dame had played more games against teams in the top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) – than any team in the country with 11. After a March 5 date with Pittsburgh, that number should increase to 12.The RPI is a system that ranks programs in a somewhat similar manner to that of the college football BCS.”Whatever they throw us in the postseason, be it the Big East tournament bracket and hopefully the NCAA tournament, no one can look at me and say, ‘Boy, that’s a tough draw,'” Brey said. “We’ve already had a tough draw.”The tough draw dealt to Brey’s squad called for seven road games in a 10-game stretch, ending with an 88-74 loss to Connecticut Saturday.”It’s been nice that we’ve been able to get some rest after that segment,” Brey said.But the loss to the Huskies highlighted for the Irish coach Notre Dame’s number one concern heading down the stretch.”The one thing we need the [big guys] to do consistently the rest of the regular season and in the postseason is rebound the basketball,” Brey said. “They’ve got to rebound the basketball consistently no matter if they’re scoring or they’re not.”Center Torin Francis, forward Dennis Latimore and center/forward Rick Cornett combined for only nine boards as Connecticut out-rebounded the Irish 43-26.Notre Dame grabbed more rebounds than Providence (45-32) in a road win last Saturday but was out-rebounded, 30-23, in a Feb. 16 victory against Georgetown.The Irish play UCLA Sunday, then host Rutgers March 3 and Pittsburgh March 5.Amid the inconsistent play of the Irish frontcourt, Cornett has emerged as a difference-maker.”Rick is a very talented player,” Quinn said. “Especially against Providence, he came in and just dominated down low.”Cornett scored 14 points and grabbed 14 rebounds against the Friars.Despite positives and negatives that arise around any program, Notre Dame has one goal: to return to the NCAA tournament. As teams lose down the regular season stretch and seeding becomes more permanent as conference tournaments approach, the Irish remain focused on their task at hand.The circumstances up until the Big East tournament fall to their advantage.”Wacky things happen in the Big East, but there are still things [we can do] to take care of our own destiny,” Falls said.