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Men’s Basketball: Irish to face red-hot Villanova

Mike Monaco | Wednesday, January 30, 2013

At a time during which the Irish are attempting to get hot again, they’ll have to do so against a team that is currently sizzling.

Notre Dame (16-4, 4-3 Big East) will square off with red-hot Villanova on Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion. The Wildcats (13-7, 4-3) are coming off home wins against then-No. 3 Syracuse and then-No. 5 Louisville in their past two games.

Villanova started the season 11-4 before losing three consecutive games to Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Providence. But the Wildcats recovered emphatically by downing Louisville 73-64 on Jan. 22 and then besting the Orange 75-71 in overtime Saturday.

The Irish, meanwhile, busted out of the gates to a 14-1 start this season. Yet Notre Dame, which has since fallen from the top-25 rankings, lost three of its next four games, including a pair of tilts at Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish rebounded Saturday to defeat South Florida 73-65 despite the absence of graduate student guard Scott Martin, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury. In Martin’s stead, senior forward Tom Knight made his first start of the season and propelled Notre Dame with a career-high 17 points and seven rebounds.

Irish coach Mike Brey said after the game that Notre Dame was confident in Knight despite his inexperience in a starting role.

“We injected him into the lineup off the bench playing key minutes last year and he was really good for us down the stretch,” said Brey of the Dixfield, Maine, native. “He was really good for us in the first-round game of the NCAA tournament against Xavier. We were down and he made some plays to get us back in it. And the other four guys are very confident in him because he’s a senior and he’s been in our program.”

The Wildcats will feature a senior frontcourt player of their own in forward/center Mouphtaou Yarou, who recorded 14 points and 16 rebounds against the Orange on Saturday.

Sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston leads the Wildcats in scoring with 13 points per game off the bench. Freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono and sophomore guard Darrun Hilliard average 11.7 and 10.8 points per game, respectively. Hilliard scored a game-high 25 points against Syracuse and Arcidiacono poured in 15 points against Louisville.

Notre Dame will look for scoring of its own against the Wildcats. The Irish have averaged 75.2 points per game in their four Big East victories but are averaging just 56 points in their three league losses.

Against the Bulls on Saturday, junior guard Jerian Grant had a team-high 18 points to go along with eight assists. The Irish made 9-of-19 threes against South Florida after making just nine total in their previous three games.

“We really tried to emphasize this week be better screeners off the ball because we have another big body [in Knight] that can set screens,” Brey said after Saturday’s victory. “I thought we did a good job of that.”

The offensive plan worked, as the Irish scored more points Saturday than in any of their last five games. Notre Dame shot 54 percent from the field against the Bulls. The Irish are 10-0 this season when they shoot 50 percent or greater on their field goals.

Notre Dame tips off against Villanova on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Mike Monaco at [email protected]