ND aims to end four-game skid against Valpo
By BRIAN KESSLER
Christmas is coming and the Notre Dame basketball team aims to give first-year head coach Matt Doherty an early holiday gift — a win.
Doherty and the Irish haven't tasted victory since Nov. 21 — a span that has seen Notre Dame drop four straight contests. Despite his team's struggles, Doherty is still upbeat because, though his team has put forth great effort, his players aren't satisfied with moral victories.
Last Saturday, the Commodores invaded the Joyce Center and a controversial charging call against Troy Murphy late in the game allowed them to escape with an 87-85 victory.
"The best thing is: our kids hurt," Doherty said following Saturday's 87-85 loss to Vanderbilt. "There are tears in there and that's great. I'm more excited about this team than our game against Ohio State."
Notre Dame hosts Valparaiso at 7:30 tonight at the Joyce Center with hopes of ending their four-game skid.
"We've got a lot of golf left," Doherty said. "We've only played a couple holes. I have to grade the effort and not so much the results. It's like in practice; I grade the shot we get and not whether it goes in or not. I think we're making progress."
The Irish come off back-to-back overtime losses to No. 15 Indiana and undefeated Vanderbilt.
Valpo has been slow getting out of the box. Doherty, however, is still concerned about the match-up and the rest of the upcoming games.
"We have a hell of a stretch coming up," Doherty said. "Valpo is going to be very good. That was a stupid game for me to schedule because they are northern Indiana and they're going to be fired up."
The Crusaders now stand at 2-4 on the season and fell to Minnesota 57-44 in their last outing. The Gophers built a 12-point lead at 43-29 with 9 minutes, 36 seconds to play before Valparaiso scored 10 straight points to climb within 43-39 at 5:40.
Then the Gophers, who missed eight consecutive free throws, had a 9-2 spurt for a 52-44 lead and finished the game sinking 6 of 8 foul shots. Valpo shot just 29 percent as a team.
The Crusaders, the preseason favorite to win the Mid-Continent Conference, are led by Ivan Vujic. The 6-foot-11 center is averaging 13.7 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per contest. Vujic, however, got in foul trouble against Minnesota and finished with just eight points.
Notre Dame sophomore center Harold Swanagan has yet to regain his form from last season and will have his hands full with Vujic. Troy Murphy the other hand, should present a challenge for the Crusaders. Murphy has six double-doubles on the season and has been held to less than 20 points just one time so far this season.
Tonight's game marks the 39th meeting between the two teams. The Irish lead the series 35-3 and hold a 27-2 record against the Crusaders at home. The teams last met on Nov. 27, 1994.
In that game, the Irish posted a season-opening 77-69 win.
All Sports Stories for Wednesday, December 8, 1999