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Men’s Basketball: Irish set to face Huskies

Bobby Griffin | Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Notre Dame did not want to look past Seton Hall Saturday to a looming game against the Connecticut Huskies (No. 3 AP/No. 4 coach’s poll), but a match up with the team Irish coach Mike Brey calls the best in the country has now arrived – and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“In my opinion, they are the best team in the country and have the most weapons and the most bodies,” Brey said at a press conference Monday in the Joyce Center. “And when they kick it into gear, which we’ve seen, they can be pretty devastating.”

The Irish – who have won their last three games against Rutgers, South Florida and Seton Hall – have improved their Big East record to 4-8 (13-10 overall) as they continue the effort to grab one of the final Big East tournament spots.

Notre Dame has four games remaining, including Tuesday night’s game at the Hartford Civic Center, and Brey knows any win will have the same significance, regardless of the opponent.

“For us, it will help us get to New York – simplest terms, man,” Brey said. “That’s how I’ve looked at it, that’s how I’ve presented it to our guys. It would be another step closer to qualifying for the tournament in New York. That’s been our focus, and that’s what we’ve talked about.”

Brey also conveyed Monday morning what Notre Dame’s focus will be in stopping a Huskies team that is 10-2 in the Big East and 23-2 overall. Connecticut is also a perfect 13-0 at home this season.

“When we’ve had success against them … we’ve limited transition and second shots,” Brey said. “So that’s kind of where you start with a general feeling.”

Limiting transition points and second shots will be difficult for Notre Dame given Connecticut’s athleticism (forward Rudy Gay is considered one of the most talented players in college basketball) and ability to rebound on the offensive end (forwards Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong and Gay have a combined 182 offensive rebounds this season).

Senior Chris Quinn said Sunday he considers Connecticut to be one of the best teams in the country because of the problems – such as transition and second chance points – they present opponents every game.

“[Connecticut is], if not the best, one of the best five teams in the country,” Quinn said. “Extremely talented, big, physical and quick. It’s definitely going to be a tough test going into their place, but the only thing we can do is go in there and play with nothing to lose.”

Notre Dame forwards Torin Francis and Rick Cornett will need to play strong underneath the basket to try to limit Connecticut’s ability to get to the glass. Brey also said all four big men – Rob Kurz and Luke Zeller included – will make an impact.

“Its been tough to get to the fourth big guy, but you know what? Tomorrow night, Luke might play 15 minutes the way this thing’s going,” Brey said. “All four of those guys need to be ready.”

Against Seton Hall Saturday, Francis and Cornett controlled the glass and kept up with the Pirates’ physical play. They combined for 18 rebounds. Francis led the way with 10.

Brey said Irish guard Russell Carter – who is averaging 12.3 points per game during Notre Dame’s three-game winning streak – will be key in helping out the bigger forwards on the boards for Notre Dame. Carter has helped on the defensive glass recently by boxing out large bodies.

Brey also complimented Carter Monday for his recent improvement. Brey said Carter is beginning to understand how to play the game of basketball, which compliments his overall ability.

“Now, when you learn how to play and then you’ve got the athletic ability and power and explosiveness that Carter has, then you start to see what we’re seeing the last four or five games,” Brey said. “And we certainly need it right now; he’s a very confident young man.”

Defending Gay will also be a challenge given the improvement he has made this season on the offensive end. Gay is averaging 16 points per game after averaging 11.8 last season. Brey said Gay is a concern when it comes to limiting second chance shots because of his ability to score off offensive rebounds.

“He’s a great player. I mean, we’re not going to spend a lot of time talking about Rudy Gay,” Brey said. “He’s a hell of a player.

“He’s going to make plays because he’s a very talented kid, and I think he plays with a beautiful demeanor.”


u Tuesday is Rudy Gay growth poster day at the Hartford Civic Center. Fans will receive a life-size poster of the explosive Huskies forward before the start of the game between Notre Dame and Connecticut.

u The game will be televised locally on WAAT-South Bend. Check local listings for channel depending on cable/satellite service.