Since that game, ND's Big East record is 27-10, and Thursday's game at Louisville will leave one of the two teams with a great shot to be the conference's regular season champion. The Irish are 11-3 in the Big East so far this season, 21-5 overall. The Cardinals are 12-3, 22-6 overall.
Mike Brey told a story about the flight home after the 2006 game when he met with the media on Tuesday. "I was kidding with McAlarney and Hillesland because we lose a tough one down there; we don't defend a three point shot, something we worked on; we're 1-8 and we're coming back thinking, ‘Okay, you've got some management here. New York, are we getting there?'"
On the flight back, the flight attendant asked is anyone would like to come up to the cockpit visit the cockpit. "We're 1-8 in the league and it's not a great ride back; but McAlarney and Hillesland wanted to venture up and look, so I said, and I still tease them today and they do an imitation of it, ‘We're 1-8 in the Big East and you guys are getting your pilot's license.'
"We were bleeding coming out of there, and I was proud of how that group finished. The found some confidence, won a spot in New York, and won a post-season game."
Little did Brey know that his program would fly to new heights beginning with the next game, a 90-63 victory over Rutgers in South Bend. Notre Dame has been one of the best teams in the conference since then. "A little bit of a chip on the shoulder developed with guys," said Brey. "They really had no other option than to play a little more pissed off. That helped us through the spring and summer before last year, and it's probably been an underlying memory for that group."
The Irish are a half game behind Georgetown and Louisville, but all three are tied in the loss column. Both teams will remain in championship contention after Thursday's game, but the loser will be in poor shape with tie breakers even if it recovers to tie for the lead by season's end. Louisville will have games at home vs. Villanova and at Georgetown. Georgetown will host St. John's on Wednesday followed by a trip to Milwaukee to play Marquette and the season ending showdown with Louisville. Notre Dame will be the favorite the rest of the way, on the road vs. DePaul and USF and at home vs. St. John's.
Are the Irish focused on the conference championship? Mike Brey says no. "I don't think we'll look any further than Louisville. Number one they're the hottest team in the league; and the last time we were in and environment like that, Storrs CT, we weren't able to close it out. Can we be in a position to close it out against a really good team in a tough environment? That's the mission at hand until Thursday at 10:00."
If the Irish win, they'll be able to fly home without a pilot... or a plane.
Rob Kurz's Notre Dame career is coming to a close. Brey was asked what Kurz has meant to his team. "His focus and his demeanor have helped young guys who could be maybe a little giddy at times," he said.
When Kurz is around, it's time to work. He commands respect "When Rob walks into a room, they tighten up, not to the degree (they do) with me, but it's ‘Rob's around,'" Brey said.
Syracuse, a tall team that plays zone almost exclusively, out-rebounded Notre Dame 51-33 on Sunday. Louisville fits the same description. How will the Irish return to the form that made them the top rebounding team in the Big East?
"That's a concern going into Thursday because they get up on the offensive boards as well as anybody in the league," Brey said. "We have to do a better job, not so much blocking out, just going and getting the thing."
How much will Brey have to get on his players about their rebounding? Not a lot according to Brey. "They've been their (own) worst critics. I don't think I have to dwell on it a lot."
Louisville is one of the Big East's best defensive teams. "What really strikes you is their field goal percentage defense, overall, which is 37% and their three point defense which is around 29 (percent)," said Brey. "You're going to see the press back to the 2-3 zone. Then a lot of length, more length and activity than Syracuse's zone. The combination of full court pressure and then back to it (zone) is what makes them different.
"What we did last year against their press is we broke pressure to score," Brey continued. "That got us going, and we were successful. We have to remember to do that down there."
6'11" center David Padgett is Louisville's leader. Brey said, "Padgett gives them a Rob Kurz for setting the tone. He is absolutely a man, and you can tell he's unbelievably respected by those kids. He's brought some young, talented guys together. I have a lot of respect for him."