Notre Dame plays its next three games on the road. Coach Mike Brey is trying to make sure his team is focused on the first one.
The eighth-ranked Fighting Irish look for their seventh straight victory Saturday when they meet South Florida.Notre Dame (20-4, 9-3) last won seven in a row in Big East play during an eight-game run Jan. 16-Feb. 14, 2001. The Fighting Irish are in second place in the conference, 1 1/2 games behind No. 4 Pittsburgh.South Florida (8-17, 2-10) has lost six of seven meetings with Notre Dame, and is ahead of only lowly DePaul. The Bulls, though, have lost 14 games by single-digit margins and have given the Irish trouble at home in the past."We have a huge challenge on our hands in Tampa," Brey said. "We've played there three times, we've lost once and we've escaped with our life the other two."The coach is also trying to key in on this game since Notre Dame will not play again until a Feb. 19 trip to No. 25 West Virginia followed by a game at Providence."We try to look at it instead of a three-game road swing coming up (as) we play Saturday and then we don't play for a week and we got a chance to kind of shut it down and get our energy back," Brey said.Brey continues to tout Ben Hansbrough for national player of the year honors. Hansbrough is averaging 24.2 points on 54.8 percent shooting and 4.6 assists over his last five games."I just think Ben has that extra ingredient that every coach likes to have in his point guard as a leader and a point guard out there that can make Notre Dame that much better," Bulls coach Stan Heath said.This is Hansbrough's second season with Notre Dame after transferring from Mississippi State. The senior guard is fourth in the conference in scoring at 17.5 points per game and fourth in 3-point percentage at 42.0."We've figured out where to put him in spots to take full advantage of him whether it's playing off the ball when Eric Atkins is handling or having the ball in his hands and making decisions for us," Brey said.Hansbrough is a major reason why Notre Dame's 10.8 turnovers per game are the fewest in the Big East. South Florida ranks last with 16.0 per game.Ballhandling was a major issue for the Bulls in Wednesday's 59-58 loss to Marquette. They had 19 turnovers to overshadow their 51.1 percent shooting.Toarlyn Fitzpatrick had 16 points and 13 boards while leading scorer Augustus Gilchrist added 11.While Notre Dame is in contention for a top-two seed in the NCAA tournament, South Florida is trying to move up to gain a more favorable matchup in the Big East tournament."For us, the best thing we can do is try to win two games and improve seeding," Heath said. "The better your seed is, the better the chance you have of maybe lasting a little longer."