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Men’s Basketball: WVU seniors are Brey’s main worry

Andrew Gastelum | Tuesday, February 7, 2012

During their current four-game winning streak, the Irish have upset the No. 1 team in the country, outhustled the defending NCAA national champions on the road and ended the conference’s longest winning streak. Now, the Irish have yet another daunting task ahead of them as they look to stop the Big East’s top scoring duo in one of college basketball’s most hostile atmospheres: West Virginia.

Senior forward Kevin Jones (20.8 points per game) and senior guard Darryl Bryant (17.6 points per game) lead the multifaceted West Virginia attack. The dynamic senior tandem is the biggest worry for Irish coach Mike Brey heading into the contest.

“We are dealing with a heck of a team and [they] have two guys who are [almost] averaging 40 points,” Brey said. “That is amazingly impressive. They set the tone for them. Jones would be my player of the year candidate. I am very impressed with him with the numbers, but I also love how he leads the team and interacts with the guys. He is a clutch guy who makes his teammates believe.”

The Mountaineers (16-8, 6-5 Big East) broke out of a three-game skid Sunday with an 87-84 overtime victory over Providence. The Friars (13-11, 2-9) held Jones to his 20-point average, but Bryant exploded for 32 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with one second left in overtime.

Ranked fourth in the country in rebounding, Jones is one of two Big East players who averages a double-double, tallying 11.2 rebounds per game. The veteran senior has 15 double-doubles on the year and has notched at least 20 points in his last nine games, which could prove deadly in the hostile WVU Coliseum.

“We have had some good nights in Morgantown but also some nightmares,” Brey said. “They have a great crowd and I am always impressed with their atmosphere, but our kids love playing in that type of atmosphere. Our guards want to play good in big games and come out under the bright lights.”

Notre Dame (15-8, 7-3) is coming off a 76-59 rout over No. 15 Marquette on Saturday, highlighted by freshman forward Pat Connaughton’s 23 points and 11 rebounds. The co-Big East Rookie of the Week finished five-of-eight from beyond the arc and electrified the crowd with his dynamic play.

“The biggest step for [Connaughton] was to be a consistent practice player,” Brey said. “The comfort level of playing with those four [other starters] has helped a lot. We want him to be aggressive. His stroke is so beautiful. We don’t need him doing crazy stuff but I don’t want him turning anything down.”

Leading by only four at halftime, the Irish erupted for 46 points in the second half, showing a killer instinct Brey said was uncharacteristic of a young team. The upset marked the fifth win this season over a top-25 team for the Irish, tying them with Ohio State for the NCAA lead, while breaking the Golden Eagles’ seven-game winning streak.

“That is an important aspect of a group, showing some maturity and feeling you have a eam in a position where you can put them away,” Brey said. “They have figured out who they are and feel good about each other.”

“When you play a group a lot you get better defensively. Being able to get out in passing lanes and cause some turnovers creates some pressure. Certainly beating Syracuse makes a group feel good about [itself], but we didn’t get satisfied or distracted. We got more hungry, and we think that we have something here.”

The Mountaineers will host the Irish tonight at 9 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum. The game will be televised on ESPNU.