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Pat Leonard | Friday, February 4, 2005

If the Irish wanted to repeat anything they did last season, they would want to do it now.

Coming off a 78-74 win over No. 20 Connecticut, Notre Dame (13-5, 5-3 Big East) will take on No. 8 Syracuse (20-2, 7-1) Saturday in the middle of a fierce conference stretch.

Last season, Notre Dame lost on Jan. 17 to Syracuse, 81-70, but beat the Orange a month later in the Carrier Dome, 84-72.

Coach Mike Brey said he will remind his players of their past success on the road.

“I think I’ll mention that a little bit,” Brey said. “The older guys know they had success in the Carrier Dome and played freely and loose.”

Syracuse beat Notre Dame 70-61 the last time the teams met Jan. 10. The Irish led by eight points with 14:12 to play, but the Orange outscored Notre Dame 27-10 the rest of the way. Syracuse shot 50 percent from the field, cruising behind 22 points from Gerry McNamara and 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting from Josh Pace.

Though Notre Dame did not establish an inside presence against Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone, Brey said the Orange also were a handful on the other end of the court.

“What’s lost in the whole thing is how good they are offensively,” he said. “They shoot 50 percent from the floor and they put numbers up. Our transition defense is as important against Syracuse as it was the other day against Connecticut. They really run.”

Brey said Syracuse thrived in transition off the 17 Irish turnovers in their last meeting.

“We have to be better there,” he said. “I thought we did play pretty well for about 35 minutes, but we turned it over a little too much.”

Notre Dame hopes to continue improvement at the high and low post positions, as well.

Center Torin Francis exploded – visibly – on the Joyce Center court Sunday, going for 19 points and seven rebounds against Connecticut’s heralded frontcourt. Forwards Dennis Latimore and Rick Cornett have also played well of late.

“I would hope we can get some inside touches even against their zone, since I think our big men are going into this game more confident than they did last game,” Brey said.

Notre Dame was still in its one-dimensional offensive mode when it met Syracuse first. The team attempted 30 3-point shots, making nine as Chris Thomas converted on only 1-of-11 from behind the arc.

Pace, McNamara and Orange guard Billy Edelin defend the top of the Syracuse zone, with Hakim Warrick, Craig Forth and Terrance Roberts primarily playing the baseline.

The Orange have length that prevent easy entry passes inside and encourage teams to shoot from deep.

Back on Jan. 10, Notre Dame’s outside shooting was a huge problem. Now, after the Connecticut win, the Irish have a hope that poor 3-point shooting won’t be alone in determining the outcome of a game.

“I think just because we’ve been shooting the ball well, the guards have really been hitting on all cylinders,” Thomas said. “So when we’re not on, we need to rely on them every night.”

Nevertheless, Thomas – along with guards Chris Quinn and Colin Falls – will look to improve shooting from the outside to once again spread the Syracuse zone and make the Orange pay from the inside-out.

Syracuse leads the all-time series with Notre Dame, 19-15, but the Irish are 8-8 in the Carrier Dome.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN at 9 p.m. It will be the ninth of 15 nationally-televised games for the Irish this season. Notre Dame is 3-5 on national TV thus far.