Notre Dame seeks first major conference win, takes on long-time rivals
Liam Coolican | Thursday, December 12, 2019
After starting the season 0-3 against Power-5 conference opponents, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team (7-3, 0-2 ACC) is seeking their first victory against a major opponent. They will have two opportunities over the next two weeks, as they take on two long-time rivals. First, they will face the UCLA Bruins at home Saturday then travel to Indianapolis to take on in-state rival Indiana in the Crossroads Classic.
The Irish, recovering from a heartbreaking 72-73 loss to Boston College on Saturday, dominated Detroit Mercy at home Tuesday. Sophomore guard Dane Goodwin scored a career-high 27 points off the bench. The Irish’s depth has taken a hit in the last few weeks as sophomore guard Robby Carmody was ruled out for the season with an ACL injury and sophomore forward Chris Doherty announced his intention to transfer from the program.
Along with Goodwin, senior guard TJ Gibbs has been playing very well recently scoring 22 points against UCLA and 18 versus Detroit Mercy (1-8) in his last two games, and senior forwards Juwan Durham and John Mooney have continued their tremendous play all season.
Goodwin says the team’s confidence looks better moving forward.
“I think this definitely changes the mood in the locker room a little bit,” he said. “Looking up at the scoreboard and seeing us put up 110, that’s definitely a game changer, and we need our confidence to be high with some tough opponents coming up.”
UCLA (7-3), the seventh winningest program in college basketball history, is led by new head coach Mick Cronin, who was hired after a very successful career at Cincinnati, where he led the Bearcats to an NCAA tournament in nine-consecutive seasons. He has led the Bruins to a 7-3 start to the season. They feature a balanced scoring attack, with four players averaging double figures. UCLA is coming off back-to-back blowout wins following a close loss to No. 16 Michigan State. However, they have not beaten a major conference team either and rank 121st in scoring defense despite having mostly played mid-major teams.
This is the second season of Notre Dame’s scheduled home-and-home with UCLA. The Bruins won the matchup 65-62 last year. Notre Dame and UCLA have a storied rivalry, having played 49 times since their first meeting in 1950. The teams met every year between 1966 and 1995. UCLA leads the all-time series 29-20. Brey said after the win over Detroit Mercy that the team didn’t want to talk about the rivalry.
“TJ Gibbs didn’t want to hear about it. He said ‘Coach, we owe them one.’ The way we lost out there, it was a long flight back,” Brey said. “I do agree with him saying we should just focus on the game because that was a hard one to swallow.”
Indiana (9-1, 0-1 Big Ten), on the other hand, will be an even tougher opponent for the Irish than UCLA. The Hoosiers are off to a 9-1 start, with four players averaging more than 12 points per game. The Hoosiers have a high scoring offense, averaging over 80.6 points per game. They are led by freshman forward Trayce-Jackson Davis, who averages 14.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. This is the eighth season of the Crossroads Classic, an annual series between Notre Dame, Indiana, Butler and Purdue. Notre Dame holds a 4-4 record in the series but are 1-3 against Indiana.
Winning one or both of these matchups will be important for the Irish as they head into ACC play and look to improve on last season’s last-place finish and make it back to the NCAA tournament.