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Men’s Basketball: Beasts of the East

Chris Khorey and Chris Hine | Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Four years ago, Colin Falls hit a three to beat West Virginia in the first round of the Big East tournament.

Little did the then-freshman know that he would lose his next three Big East tournament games and, along with fellow fourth-year player Russell Carter, would still be looking for that elusive second win as a senior.

“I think that’s one thing our seniors have talked about – getting better in New York – but we still have to go and do it,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I think if we can keep the same frame of mind that we’ve had the last couple of weeks, that will certainly help us.”

Falls and Carter won’t just be trying to buck their own history when Notre Dame takes the floor Thursday after a first round bye. In the 11 years the Irish have been in the Big East, they have won just three games.

Falls said this time will be different.

“This is a different year, different team,” he said. “You just have to go at it like that. You have to get hot, play well and catch some breaks.”

Falls’ last-second shot in 2004 gave the Irish their most recent Big East victory. Brey’s only other win came in 2002, when Notre Dame earned a bye and then beat St. John’s to advance to the conference semifinals before falling to Connecticut, 82-77.

Overall, Brey is just 2-6 in Big East tournament games.

Notre Dame’s only other conference tournament win came in 2000, under then-coach Matt Doherty. Doherty’s squad defeated Rutgers in the first round and then lost to Miami the next night. The coach before Doherty, John MacLeod, was 0-4 in the Big East tournament.

But Brey doesn’t want to live in the past.

“You don’t want to play afraid to lose,” he said. “You don’t want to play looking over your shoulder.”

This season, Notre Dame earned a bye with its 11-5 record and fourth-place finish in the conference. The Irish won in the quarterfinals in 2002 after earning a bye, but lost to Pittsburgh in 2001.

Syracuse and Connecticut will square off today at 2 p.m. for the right to face the Irish Thursday at the same time. The Orange went 10-6 in the conference this year, while the Huskies struggled to a 6-10 record.

Waiting until 24 hours before the game to know the opponent will not faze his team, Brey said.

“You’ve been through so many scouting reports and you go through so many quick adjustments [through the season],” Brey said. “You can go over things on film quickly, but really scouting is almost overrated at this point in the season.”

More important for the Irish than a chance to size up their opponent is an extra day of much-needed rest, Carter said.

“[The bye helps] maybe just a little bit as far as scouting reports, because you get to watch the game,” Carter said. “Definitely as far as stamina. We get a couple of days rest before.”

The Irish have not played Connecticut this season, but beat Syracuse 103-91 at the Carrier Dome Jan. 30.

Brey said the win earlier this year won’t matter. If the Orange get by the Huskies, they will have won seven of their last nine.

“Once you get to New York and you get into that atmosphere, it’s all even again,” he said. “Its who’s healthy, who’s fresh, who’s confident, who’s playing a little better. It gets very mental, I think, when you get to March.”