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Big test lay ahead for Irish starting Sunday

Bobby Griffin | Friday, December 1, 2006

Notre Dame faces the biggest challenge of its young season Sunday when it travels to the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. to play No. 19 Maryland in the BB&T Classic.

Maryland (7-0) has already defeated three major conference schools this season with wins over Michigan State, St. John’s and Illinois. Irish coach Mike Brey said Wednesday following Notre Dame’s 90-45 win over Winston-Salem State that the Terrapins could be one of the hottest teams in the country.

“We have a great opportunity against Maryland, they’re a hell of a basketball team,” Brey said. “They’re men, they’re old, they’ve [been] around and they’re confident. But we’ve played well in that place down there, I’m still referring to it as the MCI Center.”

Brey said Maryland is productive getting inside against its opponents, making it important that Notre Dame doesn’t relax on defense when it moves from man-to-man sets into two-three zones.

“They get into your paint on cuts, they get into your paint on drives, they get into your paint on offensive rebounds,” Brey said. “That theme that we talked about from the first week of practice as a point of emphasis will really be tested against this group on Sunday.”

Notre Dame guard Colin Falls said Wednesday that beating Maryland – and following it with a win against Alabama – would give the team confidence heading into the Big East season.

“If you can play well this week, get a couple wins, it could jumpstart something that could be really special, there’s no doubt about that,” Falls said. “We have marquee wins … highlighted wins on our non conference schedule that could mean a lot at the end of the year.”

Point guard Kyle McAlarney said the Irish will need to pressure the ball and control the game speed to beat Maryland. McAlarney scored 10 points against Winston-Salem State and said he’s still figuring out a balance between running the team and looking for his shot.

“I think it’s going to be very important for us to control the tempo of the game,” McAlarney said. “We’re just going to go out there, have fun, nothing to lose for us, and we’re just gonna play. We’re not scared of them and we’re not backing down.”

Brey used his entire bench in Wednesday’s win and said after the game he is still in the process of establishing how many players will be in the regular rotation. Freshmen Tory Jackson and Luke Harangody, along with sophomore Zach Hillesland, have been the first three off the bench. Sophomore Ryan Ayers played 21 minutes Monday, his first significant chunk of time of the season.

“[We] try to jump start him a little bit, try to see if we got nine [in the rotation],” Brey said. “I think if you’ve watched us the last couple games, is it nine, is it eight, is it eight and a half, is it nine? I think we’re really trying to figure that out.”

Tip off between Notre Dame and Maryland is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sunday.