Notre Dame Preview

  • By John Antonik
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  • February 21, 2012 04:18 PM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Notre Dame is playing as well as any team in the Big East Conference right now, and couple that with the fact that the Irish always play well at home, and West Virginia will be confronted with a pretty difficult assignment on Wednesday night.

The 20th-ranked Irish, now 19-8, 10-4, following last Saturday’s 74-70 overtime win at Villanova, have won eight straight heading into Wednesday night’s contest. That is the most consecutive wins in Big East play ever for Notre Dame, and included among those wins was a 55-51 triumph in Morgantown back on Feb. 8.

In that game, the Irish limited West Virginia to just 16 first half points and then withstood a late Mountaineer charge by hitting a pair of big 3s late in the game.

“We were awful the first half,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “We just had a spell where we didn’t play very well offensively. And then really we did a pretty good job in the second half to get back into the game and then they made some big shots - we didn’t and they did.”

Notre Dame was able to play dictate the pace it wanted to play the first time around, but Huggins is not sure his team can speed up the Irish a second time around anyway.

“The people that have tried to speed them up haven’t been very successful,” Huggins explained. “They’ve got too many guys that can make shots. When you gamble and take chances they make shots.”

In last Saturday’s four-point win at Villanova, Notre Dame overcame a 20-point first half deficit and still trailed by 10 with 5:45 remaining before outscoring the Wildcats 16-6 down the stretch. In overtime, Notre Dame scored 14 of the first 20 points in the extra period to bag its fifth conference road victory of the year.

“They’re playing really well,” said Huggins. “That was a heck of a comeback in the Villanova game.”

Luke Harangody clone Jack Cooley is really coming on of late, scoring at least 18 points in each of his last four games, including an 18-point, 13-rebound performance in the Villanova win. Against West Virginia, the 6-foot-9, 248-pound junior was 7 for 9 from the floor and finished the game with 21 points and 12 boards.

“He’s very efficient. I think he’s a lot like KJ (Kevin Jones),” said Huggins. “A lot of what he gets is off the offensive glass. He is scoring in the post. They are throwing him the ball a little bit more.”

West Virginia (17-10) is coming off one of its better road performances of the season last Thursday night at Pitt, limiting the Panthers to just 37 percent shooting in a 66-48 win. Kevin Jones scored 16 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Truck Bryant scored 15 points coming off the bench, and Deniz Kilicli added 14 to help the Mountaineers snap a two-game losing streak.

Prior to Pitt, West Virginia had dropped five of its last six league games but despite the win, Huggins believes his team has to shoot the ball better if it wants to snap its 10-game losing streak in Purcell Pavilion dating back to 1996.

“We’re obviously not making shots,” Huggins said. “Truck hasn’t shot it very well of late. We had a bunch of open shots against the zone and we just have to step into shots and make them. Jabarie (Hinds) hit a big one for us that really kind of got us going. We’ve got to shoot the ball better. It sounds simple but it’s not like we’re not getting pretty good shots.”

Until West Virginia can either make some outside shots or score more frequently inside, Huggins expects his young team to continue to see zone defenses. Perhaps the best recipe is for the Mountaineers to try to work the ball into the middle of the zone instead of moving the ball around the perimeter looking for long jumpers from the wings.

“Sometimes I think we get too perimeter-oriented,” said Huggins. “It may look good and it may look like we’re getting ball movement, but you’ve got to throw it into the teeth of the zone to collapse the zone and we don’t do enough of that.”

Wednesday night’s game is the 39th in the series dating back to a 1969 meeting against the Irish in New Orleans in the Sugar Bowl Classic. West Virginia has won only three times in South Bend in 1972, 1987 and 1996.

Notre Dame 98-7 in its last 105 games played in the facility and has lost only once this year against Connecticut 67-53 back on Jan. 14.

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN2 (Rece Davis, Bob Knight and Digger Phelps).


West Virginia University Mountaineers + Notre Dame Fighting Irish + Big East men's basketball