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Notre Dame welcomes trash-talking Huskies

Fran Tolan | Thursday, January 22, 2009

There is a palpable buzz in the air for the No. 19 Irish. Who said Notre Dame is a “football school?” No. 3 Connecticut is coming to town and brings with it ESPN’s College Gameday, trash talk and many other factors that should motivate the Irish, who are looking to break a two-game losing streak.Much of the student body plans to flood the Joyce Center Saturday morning to catch a glimpse of Rece Davis, Bobby Knight, Hubert Davis, Jay Bilas and – of course – Digger Phelps.”With College Gameday being here, it’s a great honor to be part of that,” Irish co-captain Ryan Ayers said. “It’ll be exciting and it is a big game … We kind of relish these opportunities to show people what we can do, especially on a big national stage.”After a week off since they lost to Syracuse last Saturday, the Irish will square off against the Huskies at 7:30, and Irish coach Mike Brey said the Leprechaun Legion will be going wild.”I think this crowd will be the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here and that’s saying something,” said Brey, who has guided the Irish for nine years. “I can feel it building, I can feel the crescendo. And I think we will feel an intensity and an energy in the building Saturday night that maybe has never been in this building, and I really believe that.”The Irish are currently riding a 45-game home winning streak and, with a win Saturday, would set a record for consecutive Big East home wins with 20.”It’s awesome. I’m very, very proud of [the streak] and I think it says how consistent the group has been to put us in position to actually break it,” Brey said. “I’m very proud of the group.”Which brings us to Jeff Adrien. After a win over Seton Hall Sunday, the Connecticut forward uttered some trash talk about Notre Dame’s Joyce Center dominance.”It’s going to feel good to break [Notre Dame’s] home winning streak,” Adrien told the Associated Press. “It’s a tough place to play, but we can do it. We almost did it last year.”The Irish players had measured responses to Adrien’s comments.”We kind of just laugh at it, use it as motivation,” Ayers said. “We’re not going to say anything back to him obviously, we’re just going to let our play do the talking.”Nonetheless, Adrien’s quote was the second insult of Notre Dame by a Connecticut player. In November, Huskies center Hasheem Thabeet appeared on the cover of ESPN the Magazine and took a jab at Irish forward Luke Harangody. Alongside a picture of Thabeet ran this quote: “Nobody’s better than me, only more experienced. I played Luke Harangody and he was not tough …””There’s definitely going to be a lot of hype with this game especially with what Adrien said and what Thabeet’s been saying, so that might add a little excitement for the game,” Harangody said. “But personally I’m going to take it as just another game.”Still, Harangody admitted he is excited to stand toe to toe with the 7-foot-3 Thabeet.”It’s always a fun matchup with him. It’s such a challenge because he’s such a great player,” Harangody said. “So yeah, you do circle this one on the schedule.”Last season, Harangody scored just 14 points on 5-of-23 shooting during Notre Dame’s 73-67 win over Connecticut on Jan. 5. But Harangody exploded for 32 points and 16 rebounds in a February rematch that, oddly enough, the Irish lost.However, Harangody pointed out that Saturday’s game will be about a lot more than the matchup in the paint. He said he expects Ayers and senior forward Zach Hillesland to bounce back after several rough games on the road.”I think coming home is going add an element to guys like Zach and Ryan,” Harangody said. “They’re capable of putting up big numbers so I think you’ll be able to see that Saturday.”Brey agreed that his team is looking forward to returning to the Joyce Center. It will be Notre Dame’s first Big East home game of the year while school is in session. “I’ve missed our students because they haven’t been at a home game since the [Boston University] game and they pulled us through that one,” Brey said. “Our players, more importantly, have missed having the student body there because that drives the energy in the building. They’ve certainly been rested up so they can let it rip Saturday.” Ayers added: “It’s probably going to be one of the greatest games I’ve ever played in. We’re playing against a great team, a top-five team, so it’s just going to be awesome. The crowd’s going be buzzing.”Yes, there is certainly considerable excitement about Saturday’s matchup with the Huskies. So don’t be surprised to see tailgates and rabid fans all over campus this weekend. It may be mid-January but there is football-sized hype surrounding this game.