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Notre Dame-West Virginia Preview

NOTRE DAME VS. WEST VIRGINIA
Where: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), at Notre Dame
Records & Rankings: No. 20/18 Notre Dame (19-8, 11-3 Big East); West Virginia (17-10, 7-7).
Time/TV: 7 p.m. EST on ESPN2/ESPN3
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won, 55-51, at Morgantown, W. Va., on Feb. 8.
Line: Notre Dame by three points.

Notre Dame Notes
The Fighting Irish, winners of a program-record-tying eight consecutive Big East Conference games, are tied with Marquette for second in the league standings. Notre Dame has clinched at least a first-round bye in next month’s conference tourney in New York City.

Notre Dame has equaled the program's best start through 14 games of Big East play. The 2000-01 Fighting Irish (head coach Mike Brey’s first season) also began league play with an 11-3 mark and finished 11-5 in what was a 16-game conference regular-season slate. The Fighting Irish will finish the regular season with a winning record in the league for the third straight season and for the 10th time during Brey's 12-year tenure. It is the third straight year Notre Dame has won at least 10 league games.

According to the Notre Dame sports information department the 74-70 overtime victory Saturday at Villanova was the biggest comeback in program history. The Irish were down 20 at one point in the first half.

The Fighting Irish defense is tied for second in the league after allowing just 59.5 points per game in league play and boasts the top three-point defense (26.1 percent).

Jack Cooley Cooley, a junior forward, put up his fourth straight double-double with 18 points and a game-high 13 rebounds at Villanova. He is averaging a double-double in Big East play (14.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per game). Cooley has scored 21 points or more three times in the last four games. He has reached his career-high point total of 22 four times this season, including two of the last three contests. He leads the league in shooting percentage (.618) and offensive rebounding (4.8).

Eric Atkins The sophomore point guard is averaging 13 points and 3.8 assists per game. He has reached double-figures in points in six of the last seven games and scored 20 or more points in a game three times this season.

Jerian Grant The redshirt sophomore matched a career-high nine assists Saturday and ranks first in the Big East with a 2.89 assist-to-turnover ratio. Having reached double figures in scoring a team-best 22 times this year, Grant has produced eight straight contests with 10 or more points. His 80.8 percentage from the foul line leads the team.

Pat Connaughton The freshman finished with 21 points on a career-high seven three-pointers against Villanova. The seven triples were the most for an Irish freshman since Chris Thomas hit seven vs. Rutgers in 2002.

Scott Martin The fifth-year senior continues to act as the team’s defensive glue, having taken somewhere close to 1.5 charges per game (Notre Dame does not keep track of charges). He’s averaging 8.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and has 12 blocked shots and 26 steals this year.

Off the bench, sophomore Alex Dragicevich is averaging seven points and two rebounds in 21.5 minutes per contest.

West Virginia Overview
Since losing to the Irish at home on Feb. 8, head coach Bob Huggins’ crew lost another home game to Louisville, 77-74, and won at Pittsburgh, 66-48.

The Mountaineers are shooting 42 percent from the field and a shade under 30 percent from 3-point land. They boast the second-best 3-point defense in the league (29 percent) behind Notre Dame. West Virginia leads the Big East with a plus-4.8 rebounding margin.

Senior forward Kevin Jones (6-8, 260) is tied with Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom at the top of the Big East with 19.6 points per league game. Senior guard Darryl Bryant (6-2, 195) is seventh with 16.6 ppg.

Outlook
In the victory over the Mountaineers on Feb. 8, the Irish trailed by three (45-42) with 2:50 to play in the contest, but three-pointers on three consecutive Notre Dame possessions propelled the team to victory. Notre Dame survived an upset Saturday at Villanova by converting late 3-pointers.

Connaughton went scoreless in the last meeting with WVU and Atkins recorded just seven points as Cooley carried the Irish (21 points and 12 rebounds). Notre Dame limited Jones to 14 points and shut down Bryant, who didn’t score.

The Irish have had quite a few slow starts this season, and the trip to Morgantown was no exception, where they connected on just 2 of 10 attempts behind the arc in the first half.

Morgan’s prediction: Notre Dame 68, WVU 66

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