Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is hoping for two victories from the Fighting Irish on Monday night – only one of which his team has control of achieving.
Coming off its first league defeat, Cincinnati’s primary focus is to avoid losing three straight at home for the first time in six seasons.
Two hours before the Irish football team plays for a national championship, Brey’s 21st-ranked squad tries for a 12th consecutive victory while looking to avoid a fourth straight road loss to the No. 14 Bearcats in this Big East matchup.
Though this contest does not hold the same intrigue as the top-ranked Irish facing No. 2 Alabama on college football’s biggest stage, Notre Dame (13-1, 1-0) faces a stiff challenge while trying to match its longest winning stretch since Nov. 14, 2006-Jan. 3, 2007.
As soon as it’s over, the team will show its school spirit.
“Let’s win two Monday.” Brey said. “I mean what a great night for Notre Dame fans. Start tailgating with us at 6:30 (EST); put on the Irish in Miami at 8:30.
“We’re going to go right back to the hotel and watch Irish football and support them.”
In search of the school’s first basketball national title, Notre Dame is one of the nation’s hottest teams while averaging 79.5 points and shooting 53.5 percent during its 11-game winning streak.
The Irish opened Big East play by shooting 56.5 percent and setting a season high for points in Saturday’s 93-74 rout of Seton Hall. Sixth-year senior Scott Martin went 6 of 7 from 3-point range to finish with a season-high 22 points, Jack Cooley had 19 with 13 rebounds and Eric Atkins added 17 with 10 assists.
While Cooley (15.5 points per game) and Atkins (11.3 ppg) can provide consistent offense, more big games from Martin (9.5 ppg) would make the Irish even more potent.
“That’s a new kind of a weapon that we’re really going to need to count on through the rest of the Big East,” Brey said of Martin, who is 27 of 54 from 3.
Notre Dame likely will need as many contributors as possible in its first true road contest. Though eight of the Irish’s nine total Big East regular-season losses over the past two seasons have come on the road, Brey does not expect his veteran group to be fazed by this challenge.
“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t play like men Monday,” he said.
Jerian Grant scored 17 and Cooley added 15 with 11 boards, but the Irish shot 33.3 percent – and 5 of 28 from 3-point range – in a 71-55 loss at Cincinnati last season to snap a three-game series winning streak.
The Bearcats (13-2, 1-1), however, are in danger of losing three straight at home for the first time since a five-game slide Jan. 24-Feb. 21, 2007.
Cincinnati bounced back from a 55-54 home defeat to New Mexico on Dec. 27 by winning 70-61 at No. 24 Pittsburgh on Monday. However, the Bearcats shot 31.7 percent and were outrebounded 40-34 in Saturday’s 53-52 home loss to St. John’s.
The Bearcats entered that contest second in the nation with 45.3 rebounds per game, and averaged 83.9 points on 47.7 percent shooting in the previous eight at home before making 31.5 percent in the last two.
“We better become a really good defensive team again and a really good rebounding team or we will be in trouble Monday night,” coach Mick Cronin said.
Senior Cashmere Wright (14.9 ppg) had 23 points with 10 assists Saturday, but leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick (17.9) was held to season lows of seven and 21.4 percent shooting (3 of 14).
Kilpatrick has averaged 10.7 points in three games versus Notre Dame and Wright 5.5 in three.