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Men’s Basketball: Climbing mountains

Matthew DeFranks | Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Most fans probably knew freshman guard Pat Connaughton knocked down seven 3-pointers Saturday. Most fans probably knew junior forward Jack Cooley recorded his fourth straight double-double in the 74-70 overtime win over Villanova.

But Irish coach Mike Brey didn’t.

“I don’t even look at stats when we’re playing really well,” Brey said. “I don’t want to see the final stats. When there’s something really good like this going on, you just kind of massage it.”

The No. 20 Irish, who return home riding an eight-game winning streak to face West Virginia tonight, haven’t needed to check the stat sheet to see how well they’ve been playing.

“I’m staying away from stats because of the overall tone of playing together, chasing it together, frame of mind being good,” Brey said. “I try to use my energy there.”

Notre Dame (19-8, 11-3 Big East) has reeled off eight straight conference victories, tying a program record for consecutive Big East wins, while only allowing one team to score more than 70 points.

In their 55-51 win at West Virginia (17-10, 7-7) on Feb. 8, the Irish held the Mountaineers to just two-for-16 shooting from behind the arc and allowed only three free throws attempted. West Virginia senior guard Darryl Bryant failed to score, missing all six of his shot attempts.

Senior Mountaineer forward Kevin Jones leads the Big East in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 20.4 and 11.3 per game, respectively. Jones scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the teams’ first meeting.

“Our controlling of the tempo doesn’t give the ball to those scorers as much,” Brey said. “I do think it messes with rhythm of individual guys, too.”

The Irish stumbled out of the gates against Villanova (11-16, 4-11), falling behind by 20 points before making a comeback late in the second half. Even when they held a 10-point halftime lead in West Virginia, the Irish had scored just 26 points.

“I don’t want to harp on [the slow starts] too much,” Brey said. “Maybe we’re not in an attack frame of mind early in the game as we are in the second half. That’s something we can do better. A lot of the time, we start the game in a control-the-tempo atmosphere so that dampens the speed of things.”

Since the teams last met in Morgantown, Notre Dame has averaged just under 77 points — nearly nine points above its season average.

“I’d like to see us get out and run a little bit,” Brey said. “It’s been a subtle slide [toward scoring more points]. We’ve got some guys offensively who are in a little better rhythm, so let’s put 75 up instead of 52.”

Notre Dame sophomore guard Jerian Grant has scored in double figures in eight straight games and Cooley has shot 73 percent from the field in the past four contests.

Brey said the Irish may look to get out more in transition against the bigger Mountaineers.

“We’ve talked about rebounding and running, especially in our building, getting out and going,” Brey said.

Notre Dame tries for a record-setting ninth straight conference win tonight against West Virginia at Purcell Pavilion. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at [email protected]