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On Saturday, the Syracuse Orange will pay a visit to South Bend for a 6 p.m. nationally-televised game against the Fighting Irish men's basketball team. After playing a few home games during the semester break, the students have returned and the "Leprechaun Legion" will be back in action at the Purcell Pavilion. Growing up near Albany, N.Y., I always rooted for two college basketball teams - the Siena Saints, a local Catholic program occasionally making headlines in March, and the Syracuse Orange, the region's true hoops powerhouse. When it came to football, I was "gold and blue, through and through" long before I was a student here, but the Irish basketball team simply did not receive the same type of coverage on the east coast, and the Orange were the team I cheered for. Flash forward to Jan. 2012, and my basketball year would be complete if Notre Dame can pull off an upset versus head coach Jim Boeheim's top-ranked squad on Saturday night. At 7-0 in the BIG EAST and 20-0 overall, the Orange are off to their best start in program history and look poised to make a run deep into March (or maybe even early April for the Final Four in New Orleans). But as several other #1 teams have learned over the past few decades, beating Notre Dame on its home court is no easy task. Notre Dame's most notable victory over a #1 team came 38 years ago today, on Jan. 19, 1974, when the second-ranked Irish ended UCLA's historic NCAA-record 88-game winning streak. Interestingly enough, it was Notre Dame who had last defeated the Bruins, nearly three years earlier on Jan. 23, 1971. Other top-ranked opponents to fall at the Purcell Pavilion (Joyce Center) include San Francisco (1977), Marquette (1978), DePaul (1980) and most recently, North Carolina (1987). The Irish also defeated #1 Virginia on Feb. 22, 1981 at Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. Notre Dame has played 30 games against opponents ranked first in the Associated Press Poll since the 1951-52 season, and the Fighting Irish have compiled a 7-23 record during that time (They are 9-23 if you count the 1954 and 1981 victories over Indiana and Kentucky, respectively, teams that were #1 in the Coaches Poll, but not the AP). Though the .233 winning percentage is nothing to write home about, Notre Dame has fared well in the Purcell Pavilion, where it has won its last five contests against top-ranked teams. That last home loss was in 1973, when John Wooden's Bruins won in the midst of their unprecedented streak. Since the victory over UNC on Feb. 1, 1987, the Irish have lost to five #1 teams, but all of these games were played away from the comforts of campus. Knocking off Syracuse on Saturday will be no easy task, but if the Fighting Irish are to come through with their biggest win in quite some time, they only need to look at their history of playing on the big stage in the Purcell Pavilion. Other statistics about Notre Dame vs. #1 AP teams:
10: Number of games against UCLA
6: Number of games against Kentucky
4: Number of games each against Indiana & Duke
5-8: Ranked record
2-15: Unranked record
0-10: Away record
6-3: Home record
1-10: Neutral site record
2-5: January record - Josh Flynt ('11)
For those who will be around Notre Dame this weekend, prepare for the craziness that's about to hit campus. Over a 48-hour period from Friday through Sunday evening, there are eleven varsity athletic events scheduled at the university. Here's a quick look at the schedule: Friday:
Men's Tennis vs. William & Mary at 6 p.m.
Hockey vs. #15 Michigan at 7:35 p.m. (NBC Sports Network) Saturday:
Indoor Track Notre Dame Invitational at 10 a.m.
Women's Basketball vs. Villanova at 1 p.m. (UND.com)
Women's Tennis vs. Cincinnati at 1 p.m.
Women's Swimming vs. Michigan State at 2 p.m.
Men's Swimming vs. Michigan State at 2 p.m.
Men's Basketball vs. #1 Syracuse at 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Hockey vs. #15 Michigan at 7:35 p.m. (CBS Sports Network) Sunday:
Women's Tennis vs. Missouri at 11 a.m.
Women's Tennis vs. IPFW at 5 p.m. There won't be any tailgating, Knights of Columbus steak sandwiches or team walk to the stadium, but the amount of traffic on campus might make it feel more like a football Saturday than a mid-winter weekend.
12:46 p.m., Huskies 67-53, Final - Tri-captain Scott Martin came up with eight points in the final two minutes for Notre Dame, but it was not nearly enough to erase the deficit for the Irish. The Huskies cruised down the second half stretch, winning 67-53 and ending Notre Dame's 29-game home winning streak. It almost seemed like there was a lid on the hoop today. Notre Dame got plenty of good looks, but shot after shot seemed to bounce out. Some might wonder if the early tipoff got the best of Notre Dame, but Coach Brey explained after Tuesday's game that with no classes, they would practice early all week and regardless, Saturday practices are usually held in the mid-morning. It's a rare occasion when fans leave the Purcell in disappointment. Truthfully, there is nothing particularly intimidating about the arena, at least when compared to many other environments among college basketball's elite teams. Still, the Irish tend to play very well in the comfort of their own home and losses here are few and far between. Coach Brey's team will travel to New Jersey for a matchup with Rutgers on Monday night, before the chance to start a new home winning streak next Saturday. It should be an incredible atmosphere as currently undefeated and top-ranked Syracuse visits for a 6 p.m. tipoff. If you can't make it to the game, catch it live on ESPN or follow the action right here on Irish UNDerground. 12:37 p.m., Huskies 58-43, 2:07 second half - Coach Brey probably wishes he had five Eric Atkins for today's game. The sophomore's three-pointer gives him 20 points for the game, nearly half of Notre Dame's scoring. 12:33 p.m., Huskies 54-40, 3:16 second half - It began as a promising morning behind the arc, but the Irish, now 5-for-18 from deep, have not hit a three since midway through the first half. Tom Knight tips in a miss from Atkins, but the Huskies' respond with a three from Giffey. Nearly three years ago, the Irish had won 45 in a row when ESPN's College GameDay visited campus. The Huskies won that game and barring some late game magic, it looks like they may break another impressive Notre Dame home winning streak here today. 12:28 p.m., Huskies 50-38, 6:15 second half - After a pair of free throws from Napier and a jumper by Niels Giffey, UConn's lead climbs to 12 and Coach Brey calls a timeout. With the way Notre Dame is shooting today, it's going to be a long road back from this deficit. 12:24 p.m., Huskies 46-38, 7:07 second half - They're letting them play this afternoon. With just over seven minutes to play, each team has only three fouls in the half. Andre Drummond responds to Notre Dame's 5-0 run with a pair of baskets to push UConn's lead back to eight. Notre Dame's band breaks into A-ha's "Take on Me" during the media timeout. 12:20 p.m., Huskies 42-38, 9:20 second half - Connaughton makes a nice move to the hope, but can't finish. Cooley comes down with the board, puts it back and draws the foul. The and-1 brings the crowd to its feet. The Irish force a turnover and a fast break layup from Atkins brings Notre Dame to within four points. UConn coach Jim Calhoun calls a timeout. Purcell is rocking now.
On Saturday morning, the Notre Dame men's basketball team will play its 18th game of the season, fifth of the BIG EAST schedule, and fourth contest of the young year. For athletic trainer William "Skip" Meyer, this weekend's matchup with Connecticut will be a much more significant milestone - his 1,000th game with the Fighting Irish. Meyer joined the Irish in 1979, a year when gas was 80 cents per gallon, the Pittsburgh Pirates were World Series champions and The Sugarhill Gang broke through with "Rapper's Delight," the first popular hip-hop song in the United States. Since coming to Notre Dame, Meyer has worked with four head coaches, including Digger Phelps, John MacLeod, Matt Doherty, and current Irish head coach Mike Brey. The Fighting Irish have compiled a 609-390 record during Meyer's time as a trainer. Here are a few more by-the-numbers statistics from Meyer's time with the Irish: 45 Consecutive Home Wins ... in the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center beginning with a win over DePaul on Mar. 4, 2006 and ending with a loss to UConn on Jan. 24, 2009 29 Current Home Winning Streak ... which began with a victory over Pittsburgh on Feb. 24, 2010 21 Players who have entered the NBA ... Matt Carroll, LaPhonso Ellis, Pat Garrity, Luke Harangody, Ryan Humphrey, Tracy Jackson, Tim Kempton, Joe Kleine, Rob Kurz, Bill Laimbeer, Troy Murphy, John Paxson, Chris Quinn, David Rivers, Donald Royal, Tom Sluby, Keith Tower, Kelly Tripucka, Gary Voce, Monty Williams, Orlando Woolridge 15 NCAA Tournament Appearances 14 BIG EAST First Team All-Conference Selections ... Garrity (2x), Murphy (2x), Humphrey, Carroll, Quinn, Colin Falls, Russell Carter, Kyle McAlarney, Harangody (3x), Hansbrough 9 Consensus All-Americans ... 1st team: Murphy (2x), 2nd team: Tripucka, Paxson (2x), Garrity, Harangody (2x), Hansbrough 6 U.S. Presidents ... Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama 5 BIG EAST Conference Players of the Year ... Garrity, Murphy (2x), Harangody, Hansbrough 3 University Presidents ... Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C, Rev. Edward A. "Monk" Malloy, C.S.C., Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. 3 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships ... Paxson, Garrity, Tim Andree 2 BIG EAST Conference Rookies of the Year ... Murphy, Chris Thomas As if game No. 1000 weren't already exciting enough for Meyer, the 33-year Notre Dame veteran is a native of Torrington, Conn., located only about 60 miles from the UConn campus in Storrs. Just one more reason an Irish victory over the Huskies would be a perfect start to what looks to be a snowy Saturday in South Bend. - Josh Flynt ('11)
Jack Cooley did his best to exorcise the demons of Kyle Kuric's dunk over Scott Martin in 2011. Big slam, same goal, similar ensuing technical foul. You're free now, Scott. You're free.
With football season wrapped up, Fighting Irish Digital Media intern Josh Flynt ('11) will be providing some insights on Notre Dame's winter sports, beginning with tonight's men's basketball game. Here's more on the action at Purcell Pavilion and Notre Dame's victory over South Florida. The Irish men's basketball team took on the South Florida Bulls tonight in their first game of the new year back at the Purcell Pavilion. For Notre Dame football fans, a game against USF may evoke unpleasant memories of the 2011 football season opener and the nasty thunderstorm that led to two weather delays. And for some, a win on the hardwood might not cure the disappointment of a gridiron defeat, but a 29th consecutive home victory and a 3-1 start to the BIG EAST schedule certainly has to leave Irish basketball fans feeling good about Coach Brey's team. Even after four years as a student and five months as an intern, I have to admit I am still unfamiliar with South Bend's high schools. I know the names of the schools, but that's about extent of my local school knowledge. On first glance, the black and gold uniforms made it look like the Purdue Boilermakers cheerleaders had taken over for the Irish, but it was in fact the squad from Penn High School in Mishawaka. Musically, Clay High School's pep band took over for the Notre Dame band. Students will begin returning to campus this weekend, and hopefully some will fill Purcell for Saturday's showdown with the defending champion Connecticut Huskies. Though much smaller than our band, the students from South Bend's Clay filled in nicely, even breaking into a rendition of Taio Cruz's "Dynamite," a well-known favorite among the ND student body. Both squads jumped out to a slow start offensively, but as is often the case when the Irish play at home, the treys started falling. Scott Martin knocked down a jumper, before Jerian Grant hit a pair, and Alex Dragicevich and Pat Connaughton followed with threes of their own, to give the Irish an eight-point lead. Connaughton also hit a tough floater from the lane at the buzzer to close out the first half and give the Irish a 30-24 lead. The Bulls pulled to within two with just over 12 minutes to play, but that was as close as they would get in the second half. The Irish proceeded to go on a 14-0 run, capped by a monster dunk from Jack Cooley. After an emphatic scream, the junior forward was whistled for a technical foul, but the dunk brought the fans to their feet and all but ended the game. The lead reached 17 points with 4:10 to play and Notre Dame held on for a 60-49 victory. Following Saturday's thrilling 2OT victory in Louisville, the Irish did what they needed to do tonight - they maintained momentum before heading into the heart of the BIG EAST schedule. With UConn on Saturday, a trip to Rutgers on Monday, and a visit from the currently undefeated Syracuse Orange next weekend, it does not get any easier for this tough young Irish team. From the box score... With 15 points and 13 rebounds, Martin posted his second consecutive double-double. Grant finished with 14 points, and Cooley led all scorers with 16 points and 7 rebounds. Basketball has always been one of my favorite sports and I look forward to covering the Irish hoop teams this winter. I'll have more coming on Irish UNDerground throughout the season, beginning on Saturday morning at 11 am ET. - Josh Flynt ('11)
Notre Dame continues BIG EAST Conference action tonight at Purcell Pavilion when it faces USF at 7:00 p.m. (ET). Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation. Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem. Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.
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