Back in the Top 25 after a decisive home victory over the reigning national champions, Notre Dame returns to the court looking to continue its current run of domination.
The No. 22 Fighting Irish try for a sixth consecutive victory when they host Brown on Saturday night.Notre Dame (7-1) began the season ranked 22nd and moved up to 20th but would drop out of the poll shortly after a 79-70 overtime loss to Saint Joseph's on Nov. 16. The Irish have since shot 51.8 percent while winning five in a row by an average of 17.0 points, and they've led by double digits at halftime in each of the last four.This will be their first game since returning to the Top 25, getting an extended break after a 64-50 home rout of then-No. 8 Kentucky on Nov. 29."This win gives us a lot of confidence and helps us realize that we are one of the better teams in the country," said guard Jerian Grant, who had 13 points and six assists.Notre Dame shot 8 of 15 from 3-point range, held the young but talented Wildcats to their lowest-scoring game of the season on 40.4 percent shooting and outrebounded them 33-27."I thought we played like an experienced group, defended excellently for 40 minutes and got into our offensive rhythm when we really needed to," coach Mike Brey said. "It's something for us to build on."While the victory further reinforced that the loss to Saint Joe's might have been merely a stumble for the Irish, at least one Notre Dame player won't read too much into the latest triumph."We believe in ourselves," senior Scott Martin said. "This core group really knows what it is capable of. I think the win helps us, but I wouldn't say it was a huge stride."The junior guard tandem of Grant and Eric Atkins continues to make strides. Grant has totaled 35 points over the last two games and 25 assists in the last three, pushing his season averages to 13.0 and 4.9, respectively. Atkins has scored in double figures in three straight games and is averaging 12.7 points with 7.0 assists over his past six.They've provided a solid compliment to senior Jack Cooley, who averages team highs of 14.1 points and 11.3 rebounds. He's tied for second nationally with six double-doubles, including one in each of the last three games.The Irish hope they won't have to shake off too much rust Saturday when they try for a 24th consecutive home victory over an unranked, non-conference opponent. They've won 12 straight overall in South Bend and 41 of 42.This is Notre Dame's first meeting with Brown (3-4) since an 87-54 home victory Dec. 29, 2007.The Bears are led by guards Matt Sullivan (15.7 ppg) and Sean McGonagill (14.9), both of whom hail from suburban Chicago, not far from Notre Dame's South Bend campus. Sullivan had 18 points and McGonagill added 14 in a 63-50 loss at New Hampshire last Saturday.Brown is facing its first Top 25 opponent since losing 86-47 at fifth-ranked Wake Forest on Jan. 6, 2004.