Game Preview: UCLA

IrishEyes reviews the pertinent story lines for Saturday's matchup with the visiting UCLA Bruins.

Holiday hangovers are the worst

The Irish haven't played since dropping an 87-85 decision to Loyola Marymount last Saturday. Apparently the bad taste left by that defeat still lingers.

"There's still a little hangover around here," admitted senior forward Luke Harangody. "That loss had to come before we had a week off for finals…I think it'll only go away when we get on the court Saturday.

"But we had a practice Sunday morning (after the loss) and that's huge in terms of developing a way to bounce back, because to be honest, its going to happen again this year.

"It was good to get back in the gym and work on some things."

As a senior leader and tri-captain, has Harangody offered long-term guidance to the team's new contributors and freshmen?

"It's not too far ahead," he answered of the big picture question. "You tell the younger guys that haven't been in the situation before that things like that happen and it's not the end of the world.

"The season's a marathon and there's a lot of games to be played. One loss is not the end of the world."

Fellow captain Tory Jackson had a similar message.

"I think the freshmen that come in really understand what happens. You see different teams from different conferences (lose) but still make it to the NCAA Tournament. They (the freshman) understand college basketball.

"But just getting them to stay confident is what we really try to do," Jackson continued. "This week is important for us. I think with the loss that we had our guys are motivated to play again and play hard and strong and give it their all."

Blitzkrieg

In last year's beat down at the hands of the Bruins in Los Angeles, the home team jumped out to leads of 14-2 and 20-7 en route to an 89-63 win to hand the Irish their seventh consecutive defeat.

Do the Irish have revenge on their minds Saturday?

"Everyone still remembers what happened at Pauley (Pavilion) last year and what went down and what we need to do this year to play a better game against them," Harangody observed. "It's just one of those days you never want to rethink, but you have to in order to prepare for Saturday."

Harangody finished with just 5 points on 2-12 shooting, his lowest output since early January of his freshman year. He committed four turnovers in 25 frustrating minutes.

The Bruins shot 57% on the afternoon and committed just 6 turnovers. At times it seemed as if an extra weak side defender met an Irish would-be-scorer on every foray near the hoop.

"They gave us an early punch that we couldn't come back from at all," offered Jackson. "They were blocking shots and had guys flying everywhere. People were knocking down shots and I didn't even know their names."

Jackson had uncharacteristically struggled in the contests leading up to that game and was benched by head coach Mike Brey. It was Jackson's first game off the bench since midway through his freshman season and he responded with 17 points, 8 rebounds, and just one turnover in 37 minutes of catch-up basketball.

"We do want to use (last year's loss) as motivation," Jackson continued. "Come out and play hard and deliver a punch early like they gave us."

Kick ‘em when they're down

Harangody knows a buzz surrounds Saturday's matchup as the college basketball world will get its first look at this year's Irish.

"I think Notre Dame needs to put itself out there on the national scene again. The loss to Loyola hurts but we can just bounce back Saturday, that's the great thing about college basketball."

With the Bruins an uncharacteristic 3-6 entering the contest, does the margin of victory matter?

"Right now I'm not thinking about them at 3-6," Harangody continued. "UCLA is coming in here and I'm excited. They're a storied program and I think they're as hungry as we are coming into this game so it should be a good one.

"A win's a win," Harangody continued when asked if the Irish needed style points on Saturday. "A win against UCLA on national TV is never a bad thing. I don't think it's about blowing them out, its just about getting a win on Saturday."

Rounding into shape

The Bruins aren't pretty on paper, but Brey believes the team is nonetheless poised for another strong run through the Pac-10.

"I think they're into their offensive rhythm," answered Brey of the Bruins 100-point effort on Tuesday vs. New Mexico State. "They played really well. They have really good players. They're no different than us, really, trying to plug some guys into some new roles and figure them out.

"Last time I checked all the guys playing their roles were Top 30 high school guys…they're pretty good players. I think they're going to win double digits in the Pac 10 when all is said and done. And I think they come in pretty confident given how they played Tuesday."

UCLA struggled to score before this week's win over the Aggies, shooting just over 43 percent from the field (including a shoddy 28 percent clip from beyond the arc) and an unacceptable 56 percent from the charity stripe.

Get used to it

What would a win over the struggling Bruins do for the Irish who are champing at the bit after a week of final exams and no basketball?

"For us it'd be great," offered head coach Mike Brey. "What I talked to (the team) about after we lost to Northwestern (on Thanksgiving Friday) was ‘how are we going to bounce back?' Because we're going to be in that mode, a few times this year. Here it is again (facing UCLA) and we're certainly going to be in the mode in league play."

Brey's focus in the upcoming Big East season will be limiting losing streaks, preferably to one game each.

"That's how we've looked at it. Who are we going to be after a loss? Because if you come back from those things, you can make something (of the season) and make a run at the NCAA tournament bid.

"It's especially (important) handling a loss in the Big East."

Facing UCLA at 2:00 on CBS is a bit easier to prepare for than your garden variety non-conference tilt…one day after the students are allowed to leave for Christmas break.

"I think it's great that its UCLA," Brey concurred when asked of the importance and timing of the opponent. "Last time we lost (to Northwestern) we got to play in less than 24 hours. We had to wait a whole week this time; that's a long time to wait.

"I think it could have helped us a little in that we got refreshed. Tory (Jackson) especially got refreshed Monday and Tuesday. I hope that helps us."

(Jackson injured his ankle vs. IUPUI on December 9.)

As for a team goal in the disjointed non-conference season?

"We talked about trying to do something to get better week-to-week throughout the season," Brey explained. "The jury is out on this week, but ask me at about 4:30 Saturday."

Saturday 101

Your need-to-know rundown of the Irish and Bruins on Saturday:

  • Saturday's contest will be UCLA's first true road game this season. The Bruins have played at home and in the 76 Classic in Anaheim as well as a return trip the city to play at the Honda Center vs. Mississippi State. UCLA has lost each of its four games played outside Pauley Pavilion.
  • In addition to a pair of head-shaking early-season losses to Cal-State Fullerton and Portland, UCLA has dropped decisions to #1 Kansas (73-61); #21 Butler (69-67), and to a solid Mississippi State team (72-54).
  • The Bruins and Irish share a common opponent in Long Beach State (5-4) with UCLA falling 79-67 at Pauley Pavilion while the Irish pulled away from the battle-tested 49ers in the second half for a 82-62 win in South Bend. (LBS has faced ND, West Virginia, Clemson, Texas, and UCLA already in non-conference play this season).
  • Senior forward Nikola Dragovic is the lone Bruins' starter from last February's win over the Irish that will be in uniform Saturday. Dragovic scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds in 25 minutes last vs. Notre Dame last season. Two of his fellow starters, Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday became 1st Round NBA Draft picks while departed veterans Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya combined for 26 points and 10 boards while helping to hold Harangody to a season-low (5 points) with a continuous assault of defensive double-teams from various spots on the floor.

    Harangody knows similar tactics will be utilized Saturday: "I'm prepared for that every game. People are going to throw whatever they can at me and I'm ready for that. If the double team comes I'm just going to look. I have a lot of weapons out there with Abromaitis and Hansbrough at the 3-point line so it should be fun.

  • UCLA senior forward James Keefe suffered a dislocated left shoulder midway through the first half of the team's 100-68 win over New Mexico State on Tuesday. He's expected to be out 2-3 weeks.
  • UCLA leads the series 28-19 but the teams are deadlocked (11-11) in games played in South Bend.

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