Irish looking for Key Win over Connecticut

Last time, Kyle McAlarney put them over the top. This time around, the Huskies want retribution. Come Wednesday night, No. 18/20 Notre Dame will set foot in hostile territory, as No. 17/17 Connecticut will look to continue its recent hot streak against the Irish in Storrs, Conn.

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey knows that the contest is going to be a tight one, especially after tiring week of basketball the Irish had over the past couple of days. "We need some rest," Brey said. "This was one heck of an emotional and physical investment. We need to get our legs back under us before we go to Storrs and face as hot a team as us right now. I think they're better than when we played them in the second game of the [conference] season, but I also think we're better. I know that they want to get their hands on us."

Notre Dame took care of business January 5 against the Huskies, taking them down in a tight 73-67 battle. Much of that win in the Joyce Center was due to junior guard Kyle McAlarney, who notched a career-high 32 points, as well as a key three-pointer that helped extend the Irish lead for good. Playing arguably the best game of his career, the guard went 13-of-19 from the field on the way to his game-high scoring output.

Although the game was close at the end, Notre Dame led by 15 at halftime, but later gave up an 8-0 Husky run that allowed the only Connecticut lead of the game with 6:25 left. If the Irish are looking to make it six wins in a row Wednesday, they will have to close out the surging Huskies if and when Notre Dame can amass a sizeable lead, rather than to let them back in the contest, as the Marquette Golden Eagles were able to do Saturday.

Typical to their success all season, the Irish shot a blistering 9-of-17 from three point range in their previous match with the Huskies. Look for Connecticut to plan on neutralizing the amount of long-range shots Notre Dame takes to curb the Irish offensive attack. With the suspension of guard Jerome Dyson, look for guard A.J. Price and swingman Jeff Adrien to handle the duties of securing the perimeter.

Notre Dame will look to move the offense through sophomore forward Luke Harangody, who struggled against the Huskies last time the two teams faced each other. The Big East's leading scorer tallied 14 points, albeit on a 5-of-23 shooting performance from the floor. Connecticut will resort to the same strategy to attempt to hinder Harangody, which consisted mainly of physical defensive presence from fellow sophomore Hasheem Thabeet. At 7-foot-3, one stat the Irish do not want to see duplicated this time around against the Huskies will be the 10 blocks that Thabeet picked up, thwarting the amount of points Notre Dame scored in the paint. The Irish were outscored down low by a margin of 50-28, thanks largely to Thabeet's dominant defensive presence. It comes as no surprise that the Huskies are first in the Big East in blocked shots picking up 8.61 swats per game.

For the Irish to come away with a win during what should be one of their bigger challenges of the season, Brey's squad will need to focus on several keys. Firstly, Notre Dame will need to limit its turnovers and protect the ball when they settle into their offensive rhythm. The next area to focus on will be rebounding. If Irish shots aren't falling, Notre Dame will need to crash the boards and pick up as many offensive rebounds as possible. On the defensive side, the Irish will not want to give up very many second-chance points on the road to bring the crowd into the game, and keep Connecticut's momentum rolling.

Finally, the contest against Marquette proved that the Irish can win when Harangody struggles. If Thabeet proves to be too much for Harangody to handle, the sophomore forward shouldn't force his shots, but rather find his teammates. Elaborating on this point, if neither McAlarney nor Harangody can assert their offensive prowess early on, Zach Hillesland, Ryan Ayers and Luke Zeller will all need to contribute to the Notre Dame cause and produce some offense much like they have been doing since coach Brey changed the lineup, resulting in a five-game winning streak.

If the Irish can come out of Storrs with a win, expect them to carry a wave of momentum that could see them become one of the elite teams in both the conference and the nation. Top Stories