Georgetown and 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward Mike Sweetney storm the Joyce Center Saturday for a matchup with No. 11 Notre Dame
By: ANDREW SOUKUP
Before the season began, Irish coach Mike Brey warned his perimeter players they would have to carry the load while the interior players developed.
Against West Virginia, the Big East's worst rebounding team, Torin Francis, Jordan Cornette and Tom Timmermans played arguably their best collective games of the season, scoring 24 points and grabbing 21 rebounds between the three of them.
But West Virginia lacked a dominant post player, something that has killed the Irish throughout the season. No. 11 Notre Dame (17-3, 5-1 in the Big East) can't say the same about Georgetown, their opponent Saturday.
"It's going to be a battle," Matt Carroll said. "It's going to be a war. It always is."
When Georgetown (10-6, 2-4 in the Big East) waltzes into the Joyce Center Saturday afternoon, the Hoyas will try to exploit Notre Dame's interior with 260-pound forward Mike Sweetney, who has a history of playing well against the Irish. In a quadruple-overtime loss last season, Sweetney himself scored 30 points and grabbed 20 rebounds.
What makes him so difficult to guard is his unique combination of athleticism and size. Yet he poses a challenge Notre Dame's trio of big men are eager to engage.
"Bringing in great talent like Mike Sweetney, and a great team like Georgetown, it's going to be a fun afternoon," Cornette said. "We're all looking forward to getting another Big East battle on Saturday afternoon and we're all pretty excited."
The last time Notre Dame lost a Big East game the Irish were destroyed inside by a pair of big Pittsburgh players. The challenge posed by Sweetney, who averages 21.2 points and 9.6 rebounds a game, is difficult but manageable, Brey said.
Yet Sweetney isn't superhuman. Since the physical Hoya forward is 6-foot-8, Brey thinks the Irish could match up well against them by throwing Notre Dame's taller big men against Sweetney.
"We're not going to stop him," Brey said. "But I think we're going to try to slow him a little bit and hope other guys don't hurt us. … He is a heck of a player, and just a difficult guy to defend in our league."
The Notre Dame-Georgetown series is fast shaping up into a terrific Big East rivalry. The last time the two teams met, it was on the floor of the MCI Center, where the Irish eeked out a quadruple-overtime win, a win that many thought defined Notre Dame as a solid basketball program.
But even if the Hoyas come into the Joyce Center remembering that game, the Irish have revenge on their mind. A year ago, the Hoyas dominated the Irish at home, led by Sweetney's 21 points and 16 rebounds.
Since that game and Saturday's clash, however, the Irish have only lost one game since. Fueled by an energetic student section, the Irish are riding a 13-game home winning streak, one they hope to extend past Saturday.
"We've put a lot of pride in our home games this year," Carroll said. "We think we're capable of doing that, but it's going to be hard with the stretch we have coming up here. I think we have a great home court advantage with our defense."
The Irish are also pleased with how Timmermans, Cornette and Francis responded to a slow start by Notre Dame's perimeter against the Mountaineers, a trend they hope continues throughout the rest of the season.
"That's what makes this team so tough, that's what I'm most proud of," Carroll said. "Guys like that come in there and bring so much to the table. When Chris [Thomas] and I are going, they know they role and do their thing. But when we're not going, they step it up.
"Each game is different, and you never know who it's going to be. But that's what makes this team so good."
All Sports Stories for Friday, January 31, 2003