Halfway Looking Ahead

SOUTH BEND - You never want to look past an opponent, but if Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey wasn't looking past Winston-Salem State before the tip, he was able too halfway through Wednesday night's game. During the second half of the Irish's 90-45 blowout of the Rams, Brey started experimenting with his team in preparation of next week's opponents, No. 19 Maryland and No. 7 Alabama.

The Irish (5-1) switched into a zone defense from the man-to-man they have been using the majority of the season, and Brey was able give point guards Kyle McAlarney and Tory Jackson a lot of minutes together, a look ND fans know Brey likes. The zone actually limited the Rams (1-9) into 4-of-21 shooting (19 percent) in the final 20 minutes, 0-of-8 from 3-point range.

"Looked at a lot of different things," Brey said. "We've changed defenses before and played some zone. We're going to have to be able to use that throughout the season, but next week is a week where I think we need to rotate in and out of stuff and change defenses, maybe look at some other ways of defending. The two little guys handling the ball."

Against a team struggling in their first Division-I season, the Irish dominated every facet of the game, rebounding margin (41-19), field-goal percentage (57.1-30.4), assists (24-7) steals (13-6), and most importantly the scoreboard, taking away nothing but good momentum into Sunday's game in Washington D.C. against Maryland.

"You want to come out of here feeling good, you hope for that, to be in a rhythm," Brey said. "It's a pleasant locker room because guys played pretty well and everyone played. It's kind of a nice setting to come back and work to tomorrow."

*Coming into Wednesday's game against Winston-Salem, the Irish ranked second in the Big East in rebounding margin (+11.8).

"I haven't seen that, we haven't seen that out here in awhile," Brey said. The Irish ranked sixth last season at +2.6. "I almost fell off my chair."

"Now can we do it this week," Brey continued, again looking ahead towards Maryland and Alabama. "I think we can rebound the ball with everybody. We gotta be a block out team, but we're pretty good at that, and we have good size and we have good nose for the ball."

Junior forward Rob Kurz has had a good nose for the ball this season, and that continued against the much smaller Rams. The 6-foot-9 Kurz pulled down a game high 10 rebounds, and at one point early in the second half, Winston Salem State had 11 rebounds and he had nine.

The tallest player in the Rams regular rotation was 6-foot-6.

"I just think I was in good position tonight and I was lucky to get some good bounces," said Kurz, who also had a game-high 18 points on a perfect night from the field (5-5) and free-throw line (8-8). "We knew coming into the game that we were bigger and that we were going to have a size advantage. That was one of our focuses coming in, pounding the glass."

*A big-time scorer in high school, and a shooter on last year's Notre Dame team, Kyle McAlarney is coming along as the team's pass-first point guard. However, up until Wednesday, he had been having trouble shooting the rock.

In the first half against Winston-Salem, McAlarney picked his spots wisely and hit 4-of-6 shots in scoring a season high 10 points. It was back to the norm in the second half, as McAlarney didn't attempt a shot while running the offense.

"It felt real good," McAlarney said of finally busting into double digits. "My teammates got me a lot of openings, so I got a couple open looks. Set a couple screens for me and it was their for the taking.

"I think it's a learning process, finding somewhere in the middle where you run the team and find you own shots. I watch film everyday trying to get better."

Sticking with the theme, Brey really thought McAlarney needed a game like this to get his confidence going before heading out to D.C.

"He needed this as far as somebody playing well before you go down there," Brey said. McAlarney also had four assists in 25 minutes. "I think it was important for him to get into a little bit of a rhythm because he's struggled. He has not shot the ball as well as we all know he can shoot the ball. I've been very happy with his assist-to-turnover (ratio). Overall he's taken care of the ball.

"I didn't think he got out and pressured the ball real well against Lehigh early," Brey continued, looking back at Monday's win. "I was really on him (Tuesday) about getting up and getting into the other guard. Defense is an area that is still a work in progress for him. But I thought he was more decisive with his shot, he got into the lane a couple times. I think he needed this kind of evening. I feel real good about him doing this before going to D.C."

*Colin Falls didn't realize he was sitting on 999 career points when he stepped to the line with 11:59 remaining in the second half. The senior drained the first free throw becoming the 45th player in school history to reach the milestone, and was honored by a standing ovation. Falls quickly shot the next free throw, which he made, to get out of the limelight.

"It was a good feeling," he said. Falls finished with 13 points, one of four Irish players in double figures.

"I think what's lost a lot of times with Colin Falls is just how good an all-around basketball player he is," Brey said, praising his senior for the second-straight post-game. "He'll help defensively. He leads us in charges. Feeding the post. Leading our group."

*In a game that was a laugher, the biggest chuckle came when the 5-foot-10 Tory Jackson missed a breakaway dunk that was blocked by the rim in front of the Notre Dame bench late in the second half.

The smiles and laughs from the bench were revisited when Jackson checked out a minute later. He had an excuse though.

"I've never seen him miss a dunk, he usually makes those," Falls said. "He was complaining about his knee."

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