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Men’s Basketball: Coming home

Andrew Gastelum | Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Returning to campus has never felt better for the No. 16 Irish, who have dropped their last two Big East road games by double digits after a promising start to conference play.

Notre Dame (14-4, 3-3 Big East) will return to Purcell Pavilion to face conference rival No. 25 Cincinnati while trying to remain undefeated at home this season.

“We are simply trying to get back home and win against a good team that you can’t look past,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “We need to be better with the ball. I was disappointed with our handling of the ball [in last week’s road losses], which made it hard to get into any offensive rhythm.”

The Irish are riding a two-game losing streak after losing at unranked Marquette and St. John’s, where they turned the ball over a combined 32 times and struggled to keep up with their opponents’ athleticism. Brey, meanwhile, expects the deep Bearcats (16-2, 3-2 Big East) to utilize their speed and athleticism to press the Irish, which has been a successful defensive game plan against his squad recently.

“I am impressed with [Cincinnati’s] defensive effort and with the vibe they have about that group,” Brey said. “But when we do a good job of keeping the speed and athleticism of our league from getting to us and getting into our lane we have a pretty good chance [of winning].”

The Bearcats are led by junior guard Dion Dixon, who averages 12.8 points per game and scored 18 in a 67-52 loss at No. 3 Syracuse Saturday. Cincinnati trailed by only four at halftime but made only 2 of their first 20 shots of the second half to cripple any chances of an upset victory. In addition, the Bearcats may be without their key big man, junior forward Yancy Gates, who went down with an ankle injury Saturday. Gates averages 11.4 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game and was instrumental to the Bearcats season-opening 15-game winning streak, ended by last week’s 72-61 loss at No. 7 Villanova.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame has gone through a shooting slump of its own, making only four field goals in the entire first half in their 72-54 loss at Madison Square Garden to St. John’s, in which the Irish hit only three of 20 three-point attempts. But senior guard Ben Hansbrough expects that to change with a change of scenery for the Irish, who are 11-0 at home this season.

“There’s a comfort zone on your home court,” Hansbrough said. “These are your rims that you’re used to practicing on and they’re your balls that you’re used to shooting with. I think everyone is just amped up to go at home. Just having the home crowd with you helps you out.”

But with the longest losing streak of the year for the Irish, the veteran sharpshooter is relying on last year’s experience to rally his teammates in what is considered the toughest conference in all of college basketball.

“We have to bounce back, and we will,” Hansbrough said. “You have to understand this league. We went on the road and lost two tough road games, but this league is all about bouncing back. Last season we had a losing record in the Big East, and then we came back and won six in a row and finished off the season 10-8, so I think perseverance is a big factor in the Big East.”

Notre Dame hopes to get back on the winning side of things against Cincinnati tonight at 7 p.m. at the Purcell Pavilion.