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Men’s Basketball: Second Chance

Chris Khorey | Friday, January 18, 2008

One week ago, Notre Dame was crushed on the road against a ranked opponent.

On Saturday, the Irish will get a chance to redeem themselves.

After bouncing back from the ugly 92-66 loss to Marquette last Saturday with a 91-74 win over Cincinnati Tuesday, Notre Dame travels to Washington, D.C. to take on No. 5 Georgetown at the Verizon Center.

The Hoyas and the Irish are tied with two other teams atop the Big East at 3-1. Georgetown is coming off a 69-60 loss on the road at Pittsburgh Monday. Its only other loss this season came at No. 2 Memphis on Dec. 22.

Notre Dame is 11-0 at home this season, but just 2-3 away from the Joyce Center. The only true road game the Irish have played was the loss to the Golden Eagles.

But even though the Hoyas are unbeaten at home, Notre Dame sophomore forward Luke Harangody said the Irish are ready to play well away from South Bend.

“We’re going to get it right one of these times,” he said. “We have to have confidence like we do when we’re at home.”

Notre Dame isn’t alone in its road woes. So far in the Big East season, home teams are 26-7 – and with only one surprise among the road victories.

“Other than Cincinnati over Louisville, the other road wins probably should have happened,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “There hasn’t been one where you’d say, ‘That was a steal.’

“Maybe we can change that this weekend.”

In order to buck that trend, the Irish will need to contend with Georgetown center Roy Hibbert. Hibbert, who stands at 7-foot-2 and is averaging 12.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

Georgetown runs a “Princeton” style offense, which usually includes the center making passes to cutters from the free throw line. However, Hoyas coach John Thompson III has modified the style to get Hibbert more touches closer to the basket.

“Early [in their offense] the ball goes to the low post,” Brey said. “Throwing it in to Hibbert early in the possession is something they’ll do, because he’s a very good passer if you double him.”

But it’s on the defensive end where Hibbert really makes his mark. He has 29 blocks on the season.

Notre Dame’s starting forwards, senior Rob Kurz and sophomore Luke Harangody, have been very productive offensively, averaging 13.8 and 19.3 points per game this season, respectively. However, neither is taller than 6-foot-9.

The last time the Irish played against a 7-footer, Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet, both Kurz and Harangody scored 14 points, but they did it on a combined 10-for-35 shooting from the field – and two of Kurz’s baskets came on three pointers. Thabeet also had 10 blocks in the game.

Harangody said he has studied tape of that game in preparation for matching up with Hibbert – focusing mainly on the positives of his performance.

“I watched tape on Connecticut and I saw where I was successful,” Harangody said. “I can be physical and get into him, or take him away from the basket and use my speed.”

Kurz, whose stellar outside shooting makes him difficult for other big men to guard, said he may try to draw Hibbert out of the paint to free it up for other Irish players driving to the hoop.

“There are times when he’s going to be matched up on me and I’ll try to take him away from the basket,” Kurz said.

Brey is confident his forwards will be able to score despite Hibbert’s presence. In fact, he said he’s more worried about his team controlling the ball and having good possessions.

“The biggest key to start is us taking care of the ball early,” Brey said. “Turnovers hurt us last year there and turnovers hurt us last Saturday in Milwaukee.”

In addition to Hibbert, Georgetown has two other players, forward DeJuan Summers and guard Jonathan Wallace, that average more than 10 points per game, while Austin Freeman averages 9.9.

Notre Dame left Thursday night for Washington, D.C. The team will visit Walter Reed Army Medical Center this morning.

“It’s just a powerful personal experience,” Brey said of the visit. “Anything we can do to thank our troops, our fighting men and women.”

The contest with the Hoyas will tip off at noon Saturday. It will be televised on WMYS, a local South Bend station that is not available in Comcast’s on-campus package for Notre Dame.