After dropping seven-straight marking the longest losing skid since the 1992-93, the Irish have now taken a pair of Big East wins and are building confidence, which will be crucial down the stretch.
"We're headed in the right direction," Luke Harangody said. "We're playing with some positive momentum right now. We've got two in a row and we're excited to get on the road and face West Virginia."
Coach Mike Brey employed his original starting lineup from the beginning of the season for the second straight game to overcome the Bulls. With the success that the unit provided against Louisville, Brey employed Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland in the starting rotation to go along with Luke Harangody, Kyle McAlarney and Tory Jackson.
Knowing well that it is imperative to take this season's Big East schedule one game at a time, the Irish aren't looking ahead, but trying to focus on each opponent as they come. However, the group still has its eye on the prize, and has never ceased thinking about picking up that tournament bid.
"I don't think we ever stopped talking about it," Harangody said. "Because if you get a couple games here and there, we're going to be in all of that talk. All we've got to do is win. But as coach said, we've got to take that good defense on the road Wednesday."
MORE NASH, PLEASE: After saying earlier this season that Tyrone Nash may not be the best fit in the Irish offense, coach Brey is increasing the sophomore's minutes. In Sunday's contest against the Bulls Nash became a pivotal piece in the first half, providing a much-needed change of pace.
"I think we're building on what we're getting from him," Brey said. "I think when you see a young man that's confident, my big thing with him is learning how to play hard every day, and I think that's starting to kick in. Certainly the lift that he gave us in the first half was flat-out fabulous, but it's funny how mental the game is and when a young man starts to feel confident and when a young man's older teammates are confident in him and that can go miles."
Nash entered the contest with just over 13 minutes left in the first half, and he stayed on the floor for the majority of the remainder of the period. Instantly, his presence was felt, converting on his first shot attempt, a slashing layup. The forward continued his tenacious play on defense as well, assisting with defensive rebounds and providing a low post presence.
Nash's success against South Florida was due to his efficiency on the offensive side of the ball. Limiting mistakes, the sophomore did not miss a shot from the field, going 3-of-3 and a perfect 2-of-2 from the free throw line. Nash accomplished all this in only 10 minutes of play.
A week after being expelled from practice for a lack of effort, any unsuspecting observer would never have guessed that the sophomore's style entailed sluggish play. Although Nash was instrumental in the first half, Brey said that he felt the veteran leadership of the starting lineup is what would seal the deal.
"You know, I felt that if we were going to win the game, we were going to win the game with that lineup," Brey said of his starters. "That group is defending well and I thought that's the group that's going to have to win the game for us — our veterans. Hillesland has been there before, all those guys. So I think it was more, they were really guarding well together, and I figured we're going to have to keep our men in there to win this thing."
With the increase of Nash's minutes, Luke Zeller's playing time, as a result has declined. However, Brey noted that it wasn't due to a flaw in the senior's game, but a testament to Nash's production.
"I don't think it's just minutes," Brey said. "I mean, Ty Nash has just gotten his minutes. It's not like you're down on Zeller, and I thought he gave us good minutes the other night. It's just Nash gave us really good minutes. Obviously Harangody's going to play a lot of minutes, and Hillesland, so we need him and this thing is going to change again, and maybe he gets 15 in the first half and has a first half Wednesday like he had against Pittsburgh. It's more just Nash playing well, not Zeller playing poorly."
ON THE ATKINS DIET: Class of 2010 point guard Eric Atkins from Mount Saint Joseph High School was sitting behind the Notre Dame bench Sunday afternoon, on a visit to evaluate the Irish program. The 6-foot-1 floor general holds a Notre Dame offer and is receiving a fair amount of attention from the coaching staff. Atkins could potentially be one of the two guards Notre Dame hopes to sign with shooting guard Joey Brooks already in the fold.
TIDBITS: Jeff Nix, director of the program, Kids in Camouflage had several of his young supporters lining up the court during the pre-game celebration of the national anthem. … Scouts from the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors were in attendance at Sunday's game. … Notre Dame commits Jack Cooley and Mike Broghammer were both in attendance to support the Irish. … Ryan Ayers' father, Randy Ayers, an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards, is using his vacation time during the NBA All-Star Break to visit and watch his son in action. After seeing Ryan go against the Louisville Cardinals last Thursday, Randy took the time off to see his second-straight Notre Dame victory. Ayers finished the contest with 12 points and went a perfect 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. … Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations, Joe Dumars was also enjoying his vacation time by catching the Irish victory Sunday at the Joyce Center. … The South Florida equipment manager had some difficulties with the squad's away uniforms and forgot to bring them to the Joyce Center Sunday, forcing the Bulls to don their all-black, mesh practice jerseys for the game.