Entering arguably the most difficult regular-season stretch in recent program history, the Irish (12-9, 3-7) have hit a serious roadblock. Thanks to poor shooting performances to start the series, Notre Dame dropped the first three games of the stretch with its three-worst games in terms of field goal percentage against Louisville, Syracuse and Connecticut. The next couple of games weren't any easier, eventually traveling to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati earlier this week, where the Irish dropped to a tie for 12th in the league. During this stretch, Brey has toyed around with his starting lineup, going with three different groups in the span of five games.
UCLA (18-4, 8-2) on the other hand, is working on adding momentum to its three-game winning streak. Starting their conference play in January, the Bruins have only dropped two of their league contests, to Arizona State and Washington. Aside from the cross-country traveling that the Irish are forced to deal with, this match up will be difficult because of UCLA's success at home this season. In 13 games so far, the Bruins have only dropped one, coming against the Sun Devils in the middle of January. At the Pauley Pavilion, UCLA is allowing a stifling 59.1 points per contest, limiting opposing offenses. With the Irish offense in a slump, the Bruin defense will provide a formidable challenge to snap Notre Dame's losing skid.
During the Bruin's three-game winning streak, they have routed opponents by an average of 21.7 points per game, showing flashes of what their offense is capable of producing. Senior point Darren Collison leads the way in terms of scoring for UCLA with 14.1 points per contest, but can also distribute the ball to his teammates, picking up 5.1 assists per game. Collison has become much more efficient with his shot selection this season, and his shooting percentage has seen an increase in over five points since last year, jumping to 53.2 percent. Once he is sent to the foul line, the senior is just as deadly, shooting 93.3 percent from the line, placing him as the top shooter from the charity stripe in the nation.
Collison's classmate, Josh Shipp is next in line in terms of offensive production for UCLA. The guard-forward hybrid is netting 12.6 points per contest and is coming off of double-figure scoring in each of his past four games. Shipp is accurate from long-range, shooting 40-percent from behind the three-point line and can exploit zone defenses similar to those that the Irish employ.
The Bruins also have some youth in their offensive production in dynamic shooting guard Jrue Holiday. The freshman is averaging 10 points per game and hauling in four rebounds per contest. In his past three games, Holiday has picked up 13, 15 and 13 points respectively and is shooting 51.2 percent from the field on the season, rounding out the list of Bruins that score in double-figures.
In terms of height, UCLA's main presence in the low post is center Alfred Aboya, who is averaging 5.6 boards per game to go along with his 9.3 points per contest. The senior will be up against Luke Harangody, and may have a difficult time controlling the reigning Big East Player of the Year who is leading the conference with 13.2 boards per game, which is also good enough for third in the nation. This is without mentioning the forward's conference-leading and nationally fourth-best scoring output of 25.3 points per game.
Harangody has been the main offensive weapon for Notre Dame, but in its recent games, there hasn't been much support for the pre-season First-Team All-American. Senior Ryan Ayers seems to have shaken off his mid-season slump, and is coming off of a 6-for-7 shooting performance against Cincinnati, in which he picked up 14 points for his second-straight double figures scoring performance after recent struggles.
Irish shooting guard Kyle McAlarney on the contrary, has not broken out of his shooting malaise, and is coming off of a 2-of-12 showing against the Bearcats. The senior didn't miss from the free-throw stripe against Cincinnati, however, going 9-of-9, good for 13 points. The guard is second on the squad in points with 15.8 per game.
If Notre Dame loses this match up against the Bruins, it will be the seventh-straight loss for the squad, a feat which the team has not endured since the end of the 1992-93 season in which the Irish dropped the final seven games of their campaign. Although this brief Big East respite is against a Top 25 opponent, perhaps Notre Dame can change its luck and reverse its struggles on the road. If not, the Irish may see themselves playing in a different tournament than they expect at the end of the season — the NIT.