Irish Return to the JACC for Key Home Games

Mike Brey met with the media on Wednesday to discuss this week's games with Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Pitt will be first to challenge Notre Dame's 34-game home court winning streak with a visit to the Joyce Center on Thursday at 7:00PM. "The only streak I talked about with my team yesterday was not 34, not 15 in the league, but 5 in a row. They've beaten us 5 in a row."

The Irish and the Panthers haven't played since they opened the 2006 conference season. Pitt won that game in two overtimes, 100-97. "It seems like we haven't played them in five years. That game was so long ago," said Brey.

Brey is looking forward to renewing the rivalry. "Since I've been in the league, they have been the most consistent program. It started with Ben (Howland). Jamie (Dixon) has done a fabulous job taking the baton from him and keeping it going. There's a culture of winning in that program. Their bench has been a little thin, and they've been banged up; but even through all of that, they've had young men who have believed they're going to get it done.

"They just keep on coming at you, as a program and as a basketball team. Big physical screens, half court defense, strong guys beating you up on the backboard… In the five losses, they've beaten us up on the backboard by an average of double figures. I think it's great to see how this group, our best rebounding group since Humphrey-Murphy-Swanagan, does against this front line."

Leading scorer Sam Young (18.3 ppg) will lead the Panthers into the Joyce Center. Brey was asked about defending him. "I think he's a player of the year candidate as well. I'm very impressed with his development. I don't know if one guy on our team can guard him. We have to have a couple of different guys involved, and our team has to help guard him."

The game won't be any less physical when Syracuse comes to town on Sunday at 2:00. "The thing that strikes you about them is that they're just so big all the way around. They're very explosive offensively. It's a great match-up (of) two good teams," Brey said.

The coach was asked how the record winning streak affects his team. "It's been a confidence giver to our team. It's not been a burden," he said. "It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. There's a strong belief in finding a way to get it done. The Providence game was an example of that. We were really on the rocks and somehow got it to overtime. Frame of mind is the biggest thing.

"We're proud of the 15 game league streak within the 34. When we joined the league in 1995, they took our lunch money for a while. For us to be able to do something like that in league play is something I know our guys are proud of."

Emerging Stars:

After a slow start in all shooting categories, Tory Jackson has improved steadily. He' hitting from the field at a respectable 43% clip, and his three shooting is up to 40%. After spending the first half of the conference slate missing more free throws than he made, Jackson's free throw shooting has improved to 52%. "One of the reasons the (shooting) percentage has inched up into a pretty good range is that he hasn't forced anything," said Brey. "In the midst of his three point shots, he's added the mid-range stuff. I think that's helped him. He has spent a lot of time shooting free throws, and I think that's helped his overall stroke."

Asked to comment about Jackson's 5.5 rebounds per game, a surprising stat for a 5'10" player, Brey joked, "He's a lot like his coach. I was a great rebounding point guard." He went on to say, "He's got a great nose for the ball. He has really great hands. What we've tried to do is let him go and rebound more and make sure we have defensive balance with Ayers and McAlarney so he can run in there and get us some. If we lose something in transition I think we'd live with it because we're getting more out of it, getting extra possessions."

Brey was asked preparing Luke Harangody in the off season to become a star player. "He took care of the physical stuff. He got in better shape. You never worry about effort and will and intensity. I just tried to spend some time with him once a week, one-on-one, about preparing to be a great player. I said, ‘You have a chance to be a special player. I want you to prepare like that. You need to get comfortable in those shoes. I'll help you with that.'"

Half Court Offense:

Brey said that he tries not to be too structured offensively with this group, that he tries not to call too many plays. Half court offense starts in a set. "Then we're into motion," he said. "We don't reset here. We never, ever reset. We just keep going and cutting."

Instead of calling more plays when the offense stalls, Brey said he is inclined to change the pace via substitutions. "Have the right guys in the game. Do we get Harangody out and Zeller in to spread them? Does McAlarney handle the ball more and Jackson comes off a screen to get him off? That's more my thinking when offense is not flowing."

Brey noted that all conference teams are well scouted by now. Opponents know what the Irish will run when they have the ball. His team is learning to adapt. "Our guys have gotten better at reading. If they cheat on it, just cut to an (open) area. I think you've seen Harangody, instead if using the screen to the block because they're waiting on him, pop up high for a foul line jump shot or a drive. We're reading our sets like our motion." He tells his players, "Now people are waiting for us. I'm not going to change everything. I want you to read it differently."

Notes:

Jonathan Peoples missed practice with the flu on Tuesday as the virus continued to work its way through the team. He's expected back today.

Brey plans to have Austin Carr meet the team. "I'd like for them to see the man that they hear so much about."


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