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Men’s Basketball: Something’s got to give

Chris Khorey | Wednesday, February 13, 2008

18-4 versus 18-5.

No. 18 in the USA Today poll versus No. 17.

No. 2 in the Big East versus No. 4.

Notre Dame and Connecticut have nearly mirrored each other this season, and both are on a roll heading into the showdown at 7 tonight in Storrs, Conn.

The No. 18 Irish (18-4, 8-2 Big East), winners of five straight, will invade Gampell Pavillion to take on the No. 17 Huskies (18-5, 7-3 Big East), who have won seven games in a row.

Notre Dame beat Connecticut 73-67 in the teams’ early-conference meeting on Jan. 5. The Huskies will be looking for revenge in tonight’s game, which will be broadcast on ESPNU.

Despite a flu breakout within the team, the Irish held off No. 25 Marquette Saturday for a 86-83 win. Senior captain Rob Kurz played sparingly after contracting the virus, and forwards Luke Harangody and Zach Hillesland vomited before the game.

Coach Mike Brey said his team is healthy for its trip east, however.

“It didn’t run through the whole team,” Brey said. “We’re back to normal and it didn’t cost us.”

Connecticut stepped out of conference Saturday and took down ACC opponent Georgia Tech 80-68 at home. Center Hasheem Thabeet led the Huskies with 24 points and 15 rebounds. During its winning streak, Connecticut has knocked off Indiana, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville.

Thabeet, who stands 7-foot-3, is also a defensive force in the paint. In the first meeting with Notre Dame, he held Big East player of the year candidate Luke Harangody – who is only 6-foot-8 – to 14 points on 5-for-23 shooting from the floor.

Harangody, who has a wider body and is quicker than Thabeet, said he will try to use those advantages to negate the Connecticut center’s size.

“If I can be more physical and get into his body more, then I can get my shot up and over him,” Harangody said.

The sophomore also said that he can do things without the ball to pull Thabeet away from the basket and open things up for other Irish players, including guards Tory Jackson and Kyle McAlarney.

“There’s some things I can do like ball screening for Kyle and Tory, too,” Harangody said. “That will bring him out.”

Kurz, Harangody’s front-court mate, said if he spends more time away from the hoop, it will draw Huskies’ forward Jeff Adrian out as well, allowing Harangody to work on Thabeet one-on-one.

“The thing that I try to do is space the floor and give him a little room to operate,” Kurz said. “[In the last meeting,] I was able to make some jump shots, which pulled Adrian away from the basket so he wasn’t able to double Luke [Harangody].”

Notre Dame has not played in Gampell Pavillion during Brey’s tenure in South Bend. Each time the Irish had visited the Huskies, the games were played at the larger Hartford Civic Center, now known as the XL Center.

Kurz said the smaller, on-campus arena will be louder than the Harford venue, but after road wins over Villanova and Seton Hall, the squad has confidence away from the Joyce Center.

“On-campus arenas are more intimate. Sometimes they’re a little bit louder because they’re small and people are packed in,” he said. “But we’re used to playing in tough places on the road.”

The Huskies are one game back of the Irish in the Big East standings, but also trail third-place Louisville, which is half a game ahead of them at 8-3. Georgetown remains first in the conference at 10-2 after its win over Villanova Monday.