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Men’s Basketball: Irish ready to guard tough

Bill Brink | Thursday, February 11, 2010

For the second straight game, Notre Dame faces one of the Big East’s leading scorers. Luckily, Ben Hansbrough has a method for keeping them in check, a reverse golden rule if you will: Guard them like he doesn’t want to be guarded.
A strategy taken from North Carolina coach Roy Williams’ book, “Hard Work,” the senior guard said he and fellow senior Tory Jackson used that strategy against South Florida guard Dominique Jones Sunday.
“Just get all up in him, make everything tough,” Hansbrough said. “As soon as he catches it, your belly button’s touching his belly button.”
It worked: Jones, averaging 29 points per game in his past nine before facing the Irish, shot 3-for-17 from the field.
Hansbrough will have plenty of time to catch up on his reading before the Irish (17-7, 6-5 Big East) face Seton Hall (12-9, 3-7) in Newark, N.J., tonight, because the team left a day early, Tuesday afternoon, to avoid inclement weather in both South Bend and the east coast. The players spoke near the Purcell Pavilion loading dock, where the team bus, covered with snow and dripping water everywhere from the already-thick snowfall, waited to take them to the airport.
Irish coach Mike Brey said he thought the team would be fine with the early departure and that it might lessen distractions and help increase its focus.
“We’ve done this before and we had success when we did it,” Brey said, referring to Notre Dame’s win on the road at South Florida, where the Irish also had an extended stay. “Sometimes when you get away you have a little more focus. You get them all in a hotel, there’s no distractions of class and things around here.”
Hansbrough said he wasn’t a big fan of sitting around snowed in at a hotel, but that he would persevere.
“I hate being still,” he said. “I can’t do it, but I’ll be alright, I’m sure I’ll find a pool somewhere.”
The Pirates’ leading scorer, junior guard Jeremy Hazell, is second to Irish forward Luke Harangody in the Big East in scoring with 22 points per game. Sophomore Herb Pope, at 6-foot-8 and 236 pounds, leads the conference in rebounding with 10.9 rebounds per game (Harangody is right behind him at 10.1).
Jackson said the Irish would approach Hazell in a similar fashion that they approached Jones, but that they can’t key on him.
“We can’t focus too much on him,” Jackson said. “He’s going to get shots up so don’t get yourself down, keep your head high and continue to be aware of where he is.”
Brey said keeping athletes off the glass and out of the lane is the key to facing not just Seton Hall but every Big East team.
“If we can keep the athletic ability out of our league and off the backboard enough, we can compete with anybody in the league,” he said. “When we don’t, anybody in the league can beat us.”
Seton Hall has lost three straight, but they were three tough opponents: South Florida in overtime, Villanova and Pittsburgh, all on the road. After losing four of five, Notre Dame has won two straight at home and hopes to continue the success, Brey said.
“We’d like to take a little bit of the same personality we’ve had in here the last two games on the road,” he said.
Hansbrough said the team realized that it could be tougher than it was, and that it needed to channel that focus tonight.
“We have to go in there like it’s a do or die game,” he said. “We could be .500 in the Big East or we could be 7-5. We have to go in there and play as tough as we can and focus on defense.”
The Irish will tip-off at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.