Mens Basketball: Irish try to shake slump
By CHRIS FEDERICO
At a time of the year when most teams are hoping to peak for the NCAA Tournament, the Irish are struggling to get through the end of the season.
For the first time since January 2002, the Irish have lost three straight games, the most recent a 92-88 loss at the hands of No. 12 Syracuse in front of a packed crowd in the Joyce Center.
"If we haven't learned our lesson after three losses, I don't know what it will take," Irish coach Mike Brey said of his team's recent struggles.
No. 16 Notre Dame (21-8, 9-6 in the Big East) has lost four of its last six games, with its only two wins in that stretch coming over conference bottom-dwellers West Virginia and Virginia Tech.
But after a hot start that saw Notre Dame knock off such college basketball powers as then No. 2 Texas, No. 9 Maryland and No. 10 Marquette and reach the coveted 20-win plateau in just 25 games, the Irish are still all but assured a spot in the NCAA Tournament bracket.
But Brey doesn't want to leave the tournament seeding solely in the hands of the selection committee. He wants his team to make a statement at the end of the season and in the Big East Tournament to secure a high seed.
"After everything this team has done throughout season, they are not going to hang their hat on that," Brey said. "We have to be ready for battle. We have to be ready to start at the beginning of the game, and we have one more chance in the regular season to do that against a Georgetown team that is very challenging as well."
The Irish will try to get back on track Saturday with a road trip to visit the Hoyas (14-12, 6-9).
"We're going back to Georgetown and hopefully we will start something new in that gym," Irish point guard Chris Thomas said. "It doesn't matter if we come out with a win or loss, as long as we get some of our old habits back and gain some confidence."
After beginning the season 11-4 and near the top of the Big East, Georgetown endured a streak of six straight defeats, including a heart-breaking 93-92 double overtime loss to Notre Dame in the Joyce Center Feb. 1st.
The last time these two teams squared off in the MCI Center in Washington D.C., the matchup proved a game for the ages, with the Irish coming away with a 116-111 victory in the marathon four-overtime battle.
With a history of close games in the series — the last two contests have gone to multiple overtimes — Notre Dame would like to go ahead early and avoid another close finish. The Irish have appeared a little exhausted in their recent struggles, and they would like to have an easy one before beginning play in the Big East Conference Tournament Wednesday.
"We're not tired. Coach Brey has prepared us well, but there is just something about how we start the game," Notre Dame senior captain Matt Carroll said after the loss to Syracuse. "It's our own fault. We don't come out with a sense of urgency like we do in the second half."
But with one game left on the regular season schedule, the Irish have one last chance to fix whatever has been breaking down before kicking off post-season play at the Big East Championships in New York's Madison Square Garden.
"It's disappointing that we've lost the last two games at home, and that we lost on Senior Night," Irish forward Dan Miller said. "But there's a lot of basketball left, and we have a chance to make a great run."
All Sports Stories for Friday, March 7, 2003