Notre Dame-Pittsburgh Preview
While many keep waiting for Notre Dame to fade, Jerian Grant and the Fighting Irish only appear to be getting stronger with each game.
Seeking a sixth consecutive win, eighth-ranked Notre Dame will try to remain unbeaten on the road when it visits Pittsburgh on Saturday.
The Irish (20-2, 8-1 ACC) are looking every bit like one of the best teams in college basketball thanks in large part to Grant. The star senior is scoring 17.4 points per game to rank fourth in the conference and is adding a league-leading 6.5 assists – one of just three players in the nation averaging at least 17.0 and 6.0.
Grant put on a show with 23 points and a career-high 12 assists to help Notre Dame rally from a 10-point deficit and beat No. 4 Duke 77-73 on Wednesday.
"He’s got a big basketball IQ. He knows our sets, he knows our system. God, he loves the moment," coach Mike Brey said. "He is such a bright-lights, big-stage guy. He’s really clutch."
Fellow senior Pat Connaughton added 13 points and 12 rebounds and the Irish shot 51.8 percent, just below their ACC-best mark of 52.1. Notre Dame also leads the conference with 81.6 points per game.
"It’s February and we’re still getting better," Brey said. "Again, Grant and Connaughton. … Those two guys are rocks, they’re really talented guys, they’ve won together a lot. We’ve got a chance with those guys setting the tone."
Notre Dame’s winning streak is its longest in league play since putting together nine consecutive victories Jan. 21-Feb. 22, 2012, when it was in the Big East. The Irish have won each of their first four conference road games for the first time in school history, though only one was decided by more than three points.
They had won five consecutive matchups against Pittsburgh before falling 85-81 in overtime March 1. Connaughton scored 19 points, but Grant didn’t play due to an academic-related suspension that cost him most of last season.
A repeat performance could be hard to come by for the Panthers (13-8, 3-5), who rank near the bottom of the ACC with an average of 67.3 points. Pittsburgh is giving up 64.0 per game, but it’s allowed an average of 76.3 during a season-worst three-game skid.
The Panthers, who haven’t dropped four in a row since a five-game slide Feb. 8-26, 2012, extended their recent struggles with Tuesday’s 70-67 overtime loss at Virginia Tech.
Sophomore Jamel Artis stayed hot with 17 points against the Hokies, who came into the game 0-6 in league play. Pittsburgh surrendered a season-worst 12 3-pointers, the last of which came with four seconds to go in OT.
Opponents have shot 29 of 62 from beyond the arc during the Panthers’ skid.
"It’s a tough loss for us," coach Jamie Dixon said. "The 12 3s just wore on us. … They made shots, and they made 3s. It’s been a pattern for us. We’ve been getting beat at the 3-point line. We know it, and we need to get it fixed."
Artis is averaging 19.0 points on 55.8 percent shooting over the last four games.
Pittsburgh has dropped 11 of its last 12 against ranked foes, including all three matchups this season by an average of 14.4 points.