"As hard as this was, Saturday will be harder to get," head coach Mike Brey said. "But we're excited about that. Your blood is flowing pretty good in Big East play. That's a confidence builder tonight (vs. West Virginia)."
The major reason behind the Mountaineers win was the play of Luke Harangody. The sophomore forward was clearly the best player on the floor and the stats prove this fact. Harangody earned career-highs in points with 29 on 11-of-16 shooting from the field and in rebounds with 16. Shrugging off blood on his jersey and knees and a slight tweak of the back early in the second half, the physical sophomore forward is making a case for one of the best big men in the Big East.
"He's a special guy," Brey said. "There's a psyche there. I realized it at an AAU Tournament in Houston. Basically, everyone on the floor was scared of him tonight. In the city of Houston that weekend, everyone was scared of him. Shoot, I'm scared of him sometimes but I'm glad he wears our jersey."
Another factor was the defensive effort by the Irish. Coming into Thursday, West Virginia was averaging 85.9 PPG and shooting 49.7 percent from the field. Notre Dame stymied the Mountaineers attack, holding them 29 points underneath their season average and just 32 percent shooting from the floor, including 5-of-25 from three-point range. The Irish outrebounded West Virginia 46-33 on the efforts from Harangody and senior Rob Kurz' 13 boards. After the victory, Brey called this group the best defensive team he's had at Notre Dame.
On Saturday, the Irish will need another defensive performance like that against Connecticut. The Huskies are coming off a 98-86 road victory against Seton Hall. Jerome Dyson, a 6-4 sophomore, tied his career-high with 27 points. The win improved UCONN to 10-2 on the season and 1-0 in the Big East. The Huskies, a young team comprised mostly of sophomores and juniors, have won five straight contests and seven of eight. UCONN is third in the league in scoring and likes to get up and down the floor as fast as possible.
"There are different kinds of bodies coming at you," Brey said of the difference between UCONN and West Virginia. "Transition defense will be big. We didn't play Connecticut last year. Other than (Jeff) Adrien and (Doug) Wiggens, all these guys are new. We haven't seen them. The style of play remains the same. They have athletic bodies, they run the floor and transition defense. We have a UCONN transition defense. We didn't play them last year but we made it up for them."
Head coach Jim Calhoun is in his 22nd season at Connecticut. Calhoun, a 2005 member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, has won two national championships and over 700 career games. Fast, athletic bodies litter the UCONN roster and five players average in double figures, led by Dyson's 15.9 PPG mark. Adrien, a 6-7, 243-pound junior, is second in scoring at 13.5 PPG and second in rebounding at 8.7 boards a contest. Point guard A.J. Price leads the Big East in assists at six per game and averages 12.9 points a contest. Harangody will be challenged down low by Hasheem Thabeet. The 7-3 sophomore averages 10 PPG and over eight rebounds a contest and is coming off a 15-point, 11-rebound performance against Seton Hall. Stanley Robinson, a 6-9 sophomore, is fourth in scoring at 11.8 PPG. These two and Adrien are a big reason why the Huskies are first in the Big East in both rebounding and blocked shots.