NOTRE DAME VS. CONNECTICUT
Where: Purcell Pavillion (9,149), at Notre Dame
Rankings & Records: No. 17/16 Notre Dame (14-1, 2-0 Big East); Connecticut (11-3, 1-1)
Time/TV: Saturday at 2 p.m. EST on BEN
Last Meeting: The two programs have met 27 times and the Huskies boast a 17-10 record in the all-time series. Notre Dame was victorious in the last meeting (50-48) in a defensive battle at the Hartford Civic/XL Center on Jan. 29, 2012.
Notre Dame looks to improve to 3-0 in league play Saturday vs. UConn
Notre Dame Notes
After a come-from-behind victory at No. 21 Cincinnati on Jan. 7, Notre Dame enters Saturday’s game against the Huskies riding a 12-game win streak, which equals the longest in head coach Mike Brey’s tenure in South Bend. The Fighting Irish also won 12 straight during the 2006-07 season.
It’s the first time ND has started out 2-0 in the Big East since 2007-08, and the Irish registered five players with double figures against Cincinnati — the fifth time that’s happened this year.
Over the last two games, the Irish are shooting 61.8 percent (21-for-34) from 3-point range. Through the last five contests, Notre Dame squad shot at least 50 percent from the field, ranks first in the Big East in overall shooting percentage (.514) and 3-point percentage (.415), and is currently third in the league in scoring offense (76.8 ppg).
Brey feels he has the best backcourt in the country with juniors Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, which will face a talented trio of guards Saturday in UConn’s Ryan Boatright (16.2 points per game), Omar Calhoun (10.6) and Shabazz Napier (17.4).
“It’s a great matchup,” Brey said. “I’m so impressed with the way Napier and Boatright are playing right now. They really make them go.”
Jack Cooley — The senior forward, who was recently named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top-25 list, has scored double figures in 14 of Notre Dame’s 15 games this season. He’s averaging team-highs in points (15.2) and rebounds (11.2).
Eric Atkins — The junior point guard is averaging 11.2 and 7.3 assists per game.
Jerian Grant — The junior guard is averaging 12.7 points and 5.3 assists per game, including a game-high 19-point outburst against the Bearcats.
Pat Connaughton — The sophomore guard has put up nine points and grabbed 4.7 rebounds per outing.
Scott Martin — A sixth-year senior, Martin is scoring 9.7 points and securing 6.4 boards per contest. He connected on 4 of 7 attempts from behind the arc against Cincinnati.
Off The Bench
The combination of freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid and senior center Garrick Sherman has produced 17 points per game, with Biedscheid leading the team with an 85-percent clip at the foul line.
Kevin Ollie is in his first year as head coach, taking over when Jim Calhoun retired at the end of last season after 26 seasons and a 618-233 (.726) overall record. Ollie played for the Huskies from 1991-95 before embarking on a 13-year NBA career. In 2010 he joined Calhoun’s staff as an assistant.
UConn lost to New Mexico (66-60) and N.C. State (69-65) during nonconference play and opened Big East action with an 82-76 overtime defeat at Marquette on New Year’s Day. The Huskies got back on track by thumping DePaul 99-78 on Jan. 8.
“I’m really thrilled that they decided to invest in him,” Brey said of Ollie. “His players love him, you can tell. He walks that line of being able to be close to them, but yet being their coach and getting on their backsides extremely well. … I think it’s great continuity for Connecticut to have him running the show.”
The Fighting Irish only had seven turnovers ... it is the fourth time this season (second straight) they have had fewer than 10 turnovers in a game. The Irish have held opponents to just 33.7-percent shooting from deep (third-lowest in the league) and have a plus-7.1 rebounding margin (fourth-best in the Big East). Connecticut is last in the conference with a negative-4 rebounding margin. If Cooley can establish a presence on the boards and on the offensive end early, look for the Irish to take advantage of some open looks on the perimeter.
Morgan’s prediction: Notre Dame 78, UConn 69.