Saturday, March 12, 2011

Thabeet Goes On For Notre Dame

Tonight's matchup will be one of epic proportions, as the two hottest teams in the Big East square off in Storrs. One of these two will see their conference winning streak end. Notre Dame has won five straight, while UConn has been on the winning ended seven consecutive times. A win for Notre Dame would match the best 23-game start overall and best 11-game start in conference play in eight seasons under Brey. Even though this will be the second time this season that the Irish and Huskies will play, both squads definitely come in as different teams.

Since ending their two-game losing skid (losses @ Georgetown and home to Providence), Connecticut has reeled off some impressive wins behind junior forward Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet. Adrien, the Big East Player of the Week, leads the Huskies in scoring at 14.7 points a night, while Thabeet is the defensive stopper in the paint with 93 blocks. The last time ND and UConn played, Thabeet created a lot of frustration for Luke Harangody. But tonight could be much different.

The Irish too, are coming in, winners of their last five, including two straight on the road in the Big East. Ever since inserting Zach Hillesland into the starting five, he has given Mike Brey's squad the boost it needs from the get go. Ryan Ayers has been spectacular off the bench, nearly averaging 10 points per night. The bench production has been solid with the renewed presence of Jonathan Peoples and Luke Zeller. They will definitely be counted on, as Connecticut looks to avenge their loss at the Joyce Center last month.

If the Irish are to be successful, Harangody has to keep chugging along and penetrate to the hole. Thabeet is tall, but Luke is a wide load! If the Irish can get Thabeet into foul trouble, Notre Dame will dominate down low. Also, senior captain Rob Kurz will have to keep his steady numbers intact. I swear he has the quietest 12.8 pts, 8.0 rebounds a game average in the country. He will definitely be the X-Factor tonight.

Kyle McAlarney could not possibly have another 30 point explosion in him, can he? Has Tory Jackson turned the corner this season, and regained his form that landed him on the Big East All-Rookie squad? All I know is that there are a lot of "ifs" in tonight's contest. With that said, I'm not sure if the Irish can beat the surging Huskies tonight.

Prediction: Connecticut 78 Notre Dame 76

Baseline Bits

~ The Huskies leads the series 12-6 and have won four of the last seven meetings. All 18 of the matchups between the two schools have been as BIG EAST opponents.

~ Playing for the ninth time in the state of Connecticut against the Huskies, this will be just the second-ever appearance for the Irish at Gampel Pavilion.

~ Since the starting lineup change, the Irish are 5-0 and averaging 88.2 points.

~ During the Irish's current home court winning streak, Notre Dame has shot .500 or better in 14 of 34 games. Notre Dame Opponents have shot .500 or better in 3 of 34 games.

~ The last time the Irish won three straight conference road games was during the 2000-01 campaign (Mike Brey’s first season) when that Irish squad rattled off a program-best five consecutive league road contests.

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