Notre Dame wary of West Virginia crowd
By KATHLEEN O'BRIEN
Associate Sports Editor
The Irish always bring out the best — or the worst — in their opponents.
They brought out the worst in the Mountaineers the last time they faced West Virginia. In a Jan. 21 Joyce Center contest, the Mountaineers committed several technical fouls, and center Chris Moss spit at an Irish cheerleader after picking up his fifth and final foul.
Notre Dame (15-5, 7-2 Big East) also brings out West Virginia's best in terms of effort and fan support.
"I think they've been averaging about four or five thousand [fans] per game," Irish guard David Graves said of West Virginia (13-7, 4-5). "They're sold out — 14,000 — for our game. I think it has a lot to do with what happened previously. It also has to do with the fact that we're Notre Dame, and the fact that we're leading the Big East."
So will the Irish, who have won their past six games, do anything differently to get ready for the hostile environment?
"If it's not broke," junior power forward Ryan Humphrey said, "don't try to fix it."
Since the teamwork the Irish have perfected has put the Irish a game in front of their opponents in the Big East West Division, the Irish will stick with their game plan. They will attempt to ignore the raucous environment in West Virginia Coliseum, an atmosphere that includes a musket being shot off during the announcement of the starting lineup and various fans wearing coon skin hats.
"We'll just try to keep our poise and keep our composure," Graves said. "We don't want to let the crowd force us into doing things we don't want to."
The Irish have managed to control the tempo throughout their six-game winning streak. Even when they trailed on the road at Georgetown and Pittsburgh, the Irish didn't get rattled like they did in early season tests.
"We have shown we have not gotten flustered when things aren't going well," Irish coach Mike Brey said. "We understand we need to slow down and not get out of character as much."
Graves has been on the ball since teammate Harold Swanagan replaced him in the starting lineup. All-American Troy Murphy leads the league, as usual, in points. Point guard Martin Ingelsby and shooting guard Matt Carroll are the top two in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, with the solid six lineup keeping the Irish on a roll.
For West Virginia, Moss is back with his squad. The junior center took a brief leave of absence from the Mountaineers following his outburst at Notre Dame.
Other top players for the Mountaineers, who edged Pittsburgh 69-68 Thursday night, include sophomore guard Tim Lyles, senior forward Calvin Bowman and junior guard Lionel Armstead.
"You don't fear your opponent, but you respect them," Graves said. "We certainly respect West Virginia. If we don't bring it on Sunday, they'll hand it to us."
That's exactly what the Irish want to avoid, since they're in a strong position to win their division. Finishing among the top four in the Big East would earn the Irish a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament come March.
u Brey is not ruling out taking a transfer at the end of this season, especially if he could get a player half as solid as Humphrey, a transfer from Oklahoma.
"If you could find a good transfer fit," Brey said, "I have an open mind to that."
An extra scholarship opened up for the Irish last week after recruit Jemere Hendrix was released from his letter of intent for academic reasons. With four players set to graduate a year from now, Brey might not want to hold over the additional scholarship, which would leave Notre Dame scrambling to fill five spots.
"The reason I like a transfer rather than an 18-year-old senior is he sits out next year when those horses are seniors," Brey said. "You lose those guys and we would hopefully have a quality guy ready to go. I don't want to make it Transfer U., but it's something you have to look at. You're always looking for new pools of talent."
Brey hasn't committed to filling the open slot, even though he could have yet another position come April should Murphy jump to the NBA.
"We're still exploring some seniors," Brey said. "I'm not counting on a senior emerging that fits us well."
All Sports Stories for Friday, February 9, 2001