Irish Return to Pauley Pavilion

UCLA and Notre Dame renew their basketball rivalry today as they square off in Pauley Pavilion. The Fighting Irish are a better team than their record indicates, with good inside-outside scoring and that battle-tested Big East toughness...

UCLA (11-13, 7-9) will renew its rivalry with Notre Dame (13-11, 7-7) for the first time since 1995 when the Fighting Irish come to Pauley Pavilion Saturday.

Notre Dame has had an up and down season, alternating between a three-game losing streak and a six-game winning streak at one point. They have had a difficult schedule, playing nine games against ranked teams, going 2-7 against them. The Big East conference is fairly good this year and the Fighting Irish have played tough, beating both Connecticut and Syracuse this month while playing #3-ranked Pittsburgh very close. It seemed like they were starting to put it together and get some consistent play and then they recently lost their last two games, against two ranked teams in Connecticut and Providence. In those games, they shot 30% from the field and averaged just 54.5 points per game.

Notre Dame is led by All-American candidate point guard, Chris Thomas, who is averaging 19 points and almost 5 assists a game. The 6-0 senior, Thomas is a skilled, experienced veteran who doesn't make a great deal of mistakes and has taken the scoring responsibility of the team on his shoulders. He'll shoot the ball with little provocation or space, taking an average of 8 three-point attempts a game.

The Irish have the foundation of what you want all good teams to have – a good point guard and a good center. In the middle is 6-10 sophomore big man Torin Francis, who is one of the best young centers in the country and a potential early NBA-jumper. Francis is a big body and very long and athletic, averaging 19 points and close to nine rebounds a game.

And it's just not a one-two punch that the Irish have. Thomas's backcourt mate is talented 6-2 sophomore shooting guard Chris Quinn. Quinn does everything you'd like a two-guard to do – shoot the ball well (39% from three), be able to create off the dribble and have the quicks to defend opposing scoring guards.

UCLA will be challenged to contain Thomas, Quinn and Francis. The Bruins have, though, generally done better at limiting big men this year than quick, high-scoring guards. Watch for UCLA to do its usual collapsing on the opposing post when he catches the ball, but the big key to the game will be if UCLA's defenders can stick with Thomas and Quinn, who love to roam the perimeter and catch and shoot it quickly.

6-4 senior Torrian Jones completes Notre Dame's perimeter starters. Jones is a tough player, and a very good rebounder. On the frontline next to Francis is 6-9, 240-pound junior Jordan Cornette, who isn't greatly skilled, but plays hard and physical.

Head Coach Mike Brey doesn't use his bench much, since he doesn't have a deep one. It's mostly Tom Timmermans, the big, 6-11 senior center, and freshman wing Collin Falls. 6-8 sophomore Rick Cornett was fairly highly touted out of high school, but has yet to blossom, being hampered a bit this year by injuries.

Notre Dame playing two of its worse games of the season in its two recent games is significant, but whether that is an indication that the Irish are on a slide or it motivates them to focus and play hard is difficult to assess. Notre Dame has played pretty well on the road and it would seem that the tough Big East schedule has them battle-tested. The team's toughness should certainly be a factor against a UCLA team that lacks it.

Watch for Notre Dame to switch defenses on UCLA quite often to keep the Bruins out of an offensive rhythm. And watch for Ben Howland to go to his reserves if the starters aren't playing hard.

All in all, it adds up to a tough game for UCLA.

Notre Dame 67

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