UConn-Notre Dame Preview
A return home helped Connecticut avoid a rare three-game losing streak after a pair of road defeats, but it's right back into hostile territory for Jim Calhoun's team.
There have been few venues less welcoming for visitors lately than Notre Dame's Joyce Center.
The Irish have won 29 straight home games - including a pair against UConn - heading into Saturday morning's visit from the 17th-ranked Huskies, who try to avoid a fourth consecutive loss in the series.
UConn won its first two Big East games in late December, but the new year brought back-to-back road contests - and a pair of losses.
The Huskies (13-3, 3-2) shot 36.4 percent and averaged 17.0 turnovers while falling at Seton Hall and Rutgers, and even a good shooting performance in their return home looked like it may not stop their skid. UConn shot 55.3 percent Monday against West Virginia, but had to rally from 10 down with about 11 minutes left before hanging on for a 64-57 victory.
"We had fire in our eyes," said freshman center Andre Drummond, who had 20 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. "We were like, 'We're not losing this game no matter what. We're going to go out there and get this game.'"
The comeback allowed the Huskies to avoid their first three-game skid since a four-game slide Feb. 28-March 9, 2010, but they have another losing streak going against Notre Dame (11-6, 3-1). UConn has dropped three straight in the series, including a pair in South Bend.
Those Irish wins are part of a much larger streak. After Saturday's thrilling 67-65 double-overtime victory at then-No. 11 Louisville, Notre Dame came home and extended its Joyce Center winning streak to 29 on Tuesday with a 60-49 win over South Florida.
"I mean, going from two totally different environments from Saturday to (Tuesday) and being able to perform the same way is huge," said forward Jack Cooley, who led all scorers in both games with a combined 34 points. "It says a lot about our team and how much growth we've had."
Keeping the home winning streak alive seemed unlikely after guard Tim Abromaitis tore his ACL in November, but Cooley is certainly doing his part. The junior has averaged 16.5 points on 65.8 percent shooting in his last eight games after averaging 4.9 in his first eight.
He'll have his hands full in the paint, however, at 11 a.m. EST Saturday. Drummond has three double-doubles in his last four contests after posting just two in his first 12 collegiate games.
His role in leading the Huskies back Monday particularly impressed Calhoun.
"I thought Andre Drummond was special tonight," Calhoun said. "He hasn't been special all season - he's been good - as you would expect for a freshman. But tonight he was special. He was the difference in the game."
To end the nation's fourth-longest home winning streak - trailing Kentucky, Duke and Ohio State - UConn will likely need another big game from Jeremy Lamb. The sophomore star had 25 points and eight boards Monday after fouling out with eight points and one rebound in the Rutgers loss. He averaged just 8.5 points in two losses to the Irish last season.
The Huskies certainly can't count on anything from Alex Oriakhi on Saturday considering the junior - who averages 6.7 points - has failed to score in 31 minutes in their last two losses in South Bend.
Sophomore guard Shabazz Napier, who went scoreless in 36 minutes Monday, had 18 points off the bench in a 73-70 loss when UConn last visited Notre Dame on Jan. 4, 2011.
Napier and Lamb may not get a chance for a breather Saturday after Friday's news that the Huskies have benched freshman guard Ryan Boatright for the second time as the NCAA investigates his eligibility.
Boatright, who missed the season's first six games for an infraction that involved accepting a plane ticket last year while he was playing AAU basketball, is averaging 10.2 points in nearly 27 minutes a game.