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ND Basketball: Men have two Big East tests remaining

Matt Lozar | Wednesday, March 2, 2005

It wasn’t the two losses that sent a message to the Irish – losses happen against quality opponents.

It’s the way those two games were lost.

After preaching and practicing defense all season, it failed the Irish in double-digit losses at Connecticut and at home against UCLA. The Huskies dropped a season-high 88 points on the Irish while the Bruins opened up a 20-point second half lead.

Now for the past two days at practice, it’s been about getting back to what got the Irish to eight wins in the Big East with two conference games remaining.

“We’re focused a little more coming off two losses. Our attention to the defensive end wasn’t where it needs to be,” Chris Quinn said. “These past couple of days we been more focused, and we’re ready to get back on the court.”

The Irish (16-9, 8-6 Big East) return to the court tonight hosting Rutgers (9-16, 2-12) at the Joyce Center. Home-court advantage has played a major role in this series, with the host team winning the past five games between these two teams.

The key for the Irish tonight will be reestablishing themselves on the defensive end.

Rutgers has the second-worst defense in the conference, allowing 69.4 points per game, so the Irish aren’t concerned about being able to score points against the Scarlet Knights.

“Offensively we’ll be all right,” Quinn said. “Defensively, this year, it’s something we’ve been able to rely on, holding teams in the 50s and 60s – and these past couple of games, it’s not the team we’ve been all year.”

Rutgers hasn’t won a road game since Dec. 28 or a conference road game since Jan. 28, 2004 – a stretch of 11 Big East games.

This is the type of the game the Irish should win.

In making a run at the NCAA tournament, that’s what the selection committee is looking at – are those teams close to the field of 65 winning the games they’re supposed to.

That’s all the Irish need to be concerned about, especially since they control their own destiny.

“I think at this time of the season, a lot of players get caught up in RPI, standings and rankings, but it’s just numbers,” Chris Thomas said. “At the end of the day, if you put together your best resume and play each game like it’s a tournament-type game, you’ll be fine.

“That’s something I’ve reiterated day in and day out.”

For Notre Dame’s resume, a win tonight gets them a winning record in the rugged Big East.

It also puts them in position to win 10 conference games for the fourth time in Mike Brey’s five seasons in South Bend, which all but guarantees them a spot in the NCAA tournament.

But right now, all the Irish can do is not put too much pressure on themselves and take care of business against the Scarlet Knights.

“We can almost taste it. It’s something we want so badly,” Thomas said. “You can almost see it in our body language and our face. It’s not so much that we’re tight or we’re nervous – just that we want it so badly, especially for me, because I want it so bad for the team.”