Brey Seeks Athletic Answer

The validity of Notre Dame's 9-1 record will be tested Thursday night when the Irish face athletic Alabama in the Sugar Bowl Classic. Who on the Irish roster will stop the Tide's Rod Grizzard? Mike Brey admits he does not have a ready answer to that question. Alan Tieuli reports. Happy Holidays!

Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

December 26, 2001

Irish Looking
For Athletic Answer

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

Mike Brey normally doesn't stumble over his words.  Observant and thoughtful, you can count on the Notre Dame coach to deliver appropriate comments for just about any situation with his basketball program.

But when IrishEyes asked Brey last week to assess the performance of Jared Jeffries against his squad – and how the Irish will defend the similarly athletic players left on their schedule – the coach truly did not have an answer.  And admitted it.

"I just don't know right now," said Brey. "Long, athletic players like that are a problem for us.  Jordan Cornette is probably most equipped, but as a freshman there are only so many situations he can fit into.  Maybe we have to look at Torrian Jones."

Jeffries is the only player keeping the Irish (9-1) from an undefeated start.  In Indiana's 76-75 victory over Notre Dame on Dec. 4, the 6-10, 215-pound sophomore scored 28 points on 10-for-18 shooting and five offensive rebounds. "We absolutely did not have an answer for him," said Brey.

This problem becomes front-of-mind for Brey and his staff as they prepare to face a gifted Alabama team Thursday night at the Sugar Bowl Classic in New Orleans. The 9-2 Crimson Tide feature a player the Irish have no immediate answer for, 6-8 junior guard Rod Grizzard.

Grizzard will be the first of many match-up problems for the Irish en route to what they hope will be a second straight NCAA Tournament berth.  To get to the dance, they'll need to successfully deal with the likes of Tayshaun Prince (Kentucky), Preston Shumpert (Syracuse) and Darius Rice (Miami).

Might the Irish hidden weapon be the much-improved sophomore Jones?  He has marked improvement in both his quickness and strength and is playing with far more poised this season.

"Torrian may have to guard a Grizzard or a Prince," said Brey. "You know what? He can guard them.  He guards (Ryan) Humphrey in practices and he guards Chris Thomas sometimes.  And he's embraced that role.  You really like where he is right now."

Jones has been a big lift off Brey's shortened-bench in important contests.  In the three Irish contests that have not been blowouts (Indiana, Miami {O} and Canisius) he has averaged nearly 16 minutes per game.  It's not inconceivable to see him match-up Thursday night for a few possessions against Grizzard, or maybe even give Thomas a brief blow at point guard while checking McDonald's All-American Bama guard Mo Williams.

The contest against Alabama is important for the Irish's national standing.  Brey's team is off to a glittery start, but it will quickly become exposed as artificial if they do not beat a quality opponent soon.  The Irish have an awful RPI of 102, thanks primarily to a schedule that is ranked in the bottom-10 percent in the country.  It's one thing to beat Monmouth by 37, quite another to get a quality SEC scalp like Alabama.

The Irish could also use the confidence boost before moving into a brutal January schedule that features this five-game gauntlet: at West Virginia, at Pittsburgh, at Syracuse, Kentucky, Georgetown.

Finally, Notre Dame and its upperclassmen are itching to rid the bad taste from the 59-56 NCAA loss to Mississippi last March 18.  To a man, the Irish felt they should have beaten that SEC squad.  This contest provides a nice measuring stick to chart the Irish progress.

"Alabama is very good," said Brey. "They are very athletic, a very active team.  Can we get a rebound?  That's been our biggest question since October.  It will be a great challenge because Alabama is a team that is getting very confident."

The Tide already has two quality non-conference wins in the bag – versus Memphis (81-70) and Temple (70-67).  It has two "good" losses, in Anaheim against UCLA and a seven-pointer at a neutral site against Missouri.  Like the Irish, Alabama has a very balanced attack with the five starters averaging between 14 and 10 points.

The Williams-Thomas match-up of McDonald's All-Americans should be worth your time alone.  "It really is going to feel like an NCAA game with all the talent and the circumstances of the game," said Brey. "Our program is at the stage where we need to play in games like this."

A good chunk of Notre Dame Nation should be able to watch this contest.  It will be featured on Fox SportsNet live in 13 different markets, including Chicago, Detroit, New York, Atlanta, the Bay Area and Los Angeles, among others.  It is part of a Sugar Bowl doubleheader that also features an interesting match-up between undefeated Miami and host LSU.

Notre Dame fans should also greatly outnumber those from Bama in the New Orleans Arena.  The Crimson Tide football team will be playing at the same hour at the Independence Bowl.  And if you think football rules the roost in South Bend, you should witness Tuscaloosa at some point. Top Stories