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It's Big Monday on the ESPN family of networks, but it might be an even bigger evening for Notre Dame basketball. The fun starts at 7 pm ET on ESPN when the #20/#19 men's team takes on #11/#12 Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Despite a loss to St. John's on Saturday, head coach Mike Brey's squad is still in contention for one of the two remaining double-byes (Syracuse and Marquette have already clinched) for next week's BIG EAST tournament. At 12-4 in the conference, Notre Dame is in third place and currently leads Georgetown and South Florida by one game. A win tonight, and the Irish would not kick off their quest for a conference title until next Thursday's quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden. If Notre Dame drops its second straight game, it risks losing that spot and having to play its first game on Wednesday, Mar. 7. Still, the Irish control their own destiny and could rebound this Friday at home against Providence. A win against the Friars, and Notre Dame would be, at worst, in a three-way tie for fourth place with Georgetown and South Florida. Both the Hoyas and the Irish defeated the Bulls, so the tiebreaker would go in favor of Georgetown and Notre Dame for the third and fourth seeds. Beyond conference seeding, a road victory over a ranked opponent would bolster Notre Dame's already impressive NCAA tournament resume, while also taking some pressure off of Friday's Senior Night game. On the women's side the #3 Fighting Irish travel to Hartford for a game against #4 Connecticut at 9 pm ET on ESPN2. The Huskies have dominated the series, 28-6, but Notre Dame has taken the past two matchups - last March in the Final Four and earlier this season at the Purcell Pavilion. The Irish have already clinched a share of the BIG EAST regular season championship, as well as the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament, but they can earn their first outright title - something they have not accomplished in 17 years - with a win tonight. Notre Dame shared the conference honor in 2000-01, when it split the title with UConn. That season, head coach Muffet McGraw also led the program to its first and only national championship, a feat the team has its sights set on again this year. The Irish are 9-1 this season against ranked opponents, and have tallied four wins against top 10 teams. They will be back at the XL Center on Saturday, Mar. 4 at 2 pm ET on ESPNU in the BIG EAST quarterfinals against a to-be-determined opponent. Clear your schedule, grab your remote and get your popcorn ready for what should be an exciting night of Notre Dame basketball. - Josh Flynt ('11)
When the halftime buzzer sounded, it looked like Notre Dame's eight-game winning streak would hang in the balance until the closing minutes. Or so we thought.... The Irish used a 28-7 run over the first 9:59 of the second half to open up a 23-point lead, on the way to an big 71-44 victory. Notre Dame's defense held West Virginia to just 16 points in the half, setting a team record for the fewest points allowed in the second half of a BIG EAST contest (the previous mark was 18 against Pittsburgh in 2010). Perhaps more impressively, the ninth straight victory set a program record for consecutive BIG EAST wins, besting the mark set during the 2000-01 season. The current 12-3 BIG EAST start also breaks a record from that season, which was head coach Mike Brey's first at Notre Dame. Jerian Grant led all scorers with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including 4-for-5 from behind the arc. The sophomore also threw down a pair of impressive dunks that brought the Purcell Pavilion crowd to its feet. Scott Martin contributed 15 points, while Eric Atkins and Jack Cooley scored 13 points apiece. Pat Connaughton, the star of Saturday's comeback win, was held scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting. But the freshman's off-evening says a lot about this year's team. On any given night, any player might step up to lead the Irish offensively, and that's one of the things that makes the 2011-12 squad so special. The future right-handed pitcher was 0-for-2 from the field, but picked up five rebounds and dished out four assists. Notre Dame continues to build its March resume, improving to 20-8 with the win. The Irish will now hit the road for a pair of games - returning to the hardwood on Saturday against St. John's at Madison Square Garden. Catch the game on ESPN2 beginning at noon ET. On Monday, they'll take on Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., before returning home next Friday, Mar. 2, for the final game of the regular season. Stay tuned to UND.com for highlights and coverage from Coach Brey's post-game press conference. - Josh Flynt ('11)
Notre Dame continues BIG EAST Conference action this evening at Purcell Pavilion when it takes on West Virginia at 7:00 p.m. (ET). The game will be broadcast on ESPN2, but Irish UNDerground will also 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, as the Fighting Irish go for their ninth straight win. Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem. Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.
ESPN.com - Parents of the world, lend me your ears. You want to get your kid to study and do his homework and get good grades and get a college scholarship, or at least some grants, maybe. But it can be a battle. All the kid wants to do is play NBA2K12. Or Modern Warfare. Or, worse yet, World of Warcraft. You try to tell him: Homework first, video games second. In life, you have to do the work before you get the reward. But kids don't think that way, do they? How can you get your point across? Don't worry, guys. Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley is here to help. You may know Cooley as a longtime Irish reserve, a guy most frequently talked about because of his uncanny resemblance to former Notre Dame star Luke Harangody. Cooley was Mini-Gody; he contained the skeletal outline of The Gody without much basketball productivity built-in. At least, until this season. Cooley's 2012 has been a dream. He's averaging 12.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game for a streaking Irish team. In ND's eight-game winning streak -- beginning with its upset win over Syracuse on Jan. 21 -- Cooley has posted six double-doubles, and his averages have jumped to 16.1 points and 11.6 rebounds. Cooley's efficiency numbers (offensive rating: 122.4; eFG%: 61.8) are stellar, and he's among the nation's top 10 players in offensive rebounding rate (17.2 percent). After years of being a Harangody body double, the source of countless unoriginal Twitter jokes, Cooley is having his own moment in the sun -- leading a once-left-for-dead Irish team to an 11-3 Big East record and a surefire spot in the NCAA tournament. Why the sudden burst of improvement? Because, according to the man himself, he stopped playing video games. From the Chicago Tribune's Brian Hamilton: Hours upon hours of pixel fixation trained Jack Cooley in strategic retreat. And that rapture with all-consuming video games like "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" and "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" had basketball suffering from hand-eye subordination. Something had to give. So Cooley, Notre Dame's truculent road roller of a center, handed the games to a friend. There was one condition:Just don't give them back to me. Consider it among the most critical turnovers of his career. "Never get 'SkyRim,'" Cooley advised, sounding vaguely somber. "You'll never stop playing it." Phew. That quote makes me really glad I didn't buy SkyRim. I thought about it, and I read about how addicting it was, and I made a responsible, adult decision to wait until the offseason. I do not regret it. But in all seriousness, as Cooley explains in the story, he really did have to refocus on the game of basketball, to become the sort of "waking up, eat, class, eat, basketball, eat, sleep" type of person. Clearly, the dedication has paid off. Who knew SkyRim was so insidious? And how many other college basketball players have we lost to its absorbing charms? Does this epidemic know no end? Anyway, parents, print this story out -- or copy the link and send it to your kid's iPhone, so the email alert briefly jars him out of his game of Tiny Wings -- and show him what the power of fewer video games can do. Cooley isn't just a Big East player of the year candidate. He's also making parenting your video game-addled child 20 or 30 percent easier. Thank him later. - Eamonn Brennan
On Saturday night, Notre Dame orchestrated an incredible 20-point comeback against Villanova - winning its eighth straight game and 19th of the 2011-12 season. The 74-70 overtime victory matched the Fighting Irish's longest BIG EAST winning streak in program history. The team also won eight consecutive league games in 2000-01, Mike Brey's first at the helm (Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Syracuse, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, St. John's, West Virginia, Rutgers). But the similarities to the twelfth-year head coach's first season in South Bend don't stop there. During that year, Brey's squad began BIG EAST play with an 11-3 mark - also a program-best, and the same record the 20th-ranked Irish have today. Finally, with wins at Seton Hall, Connecticut, West Virginia, and now, Villanova, Notre Dame has won its last four away games. The last time the Irish won that many consecutive games on the road? Yep, 2000-01, when they took five straight BIG EAST away contests (Georgetown, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers, Virginia Tech). With four games remaining, Notre Dame sits tied with Marquette for second place in the conference, 2.5 games behind Syracuse. The top four regular season teams will secure a double-bye to the quarterfinals for next month's BIG EAST Tournament, which will be held from March 6-10 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Notre Dame returns to the Purcell Pavilion on Wednesday against West Virginia at 7 pm ET on ESPN2. Rece Davis, Digger Phelps and Bob Knight will have the call. The Mountaineers are 7-7 in conference play and will be looking to avenge this month's 55-51 home loss at the hands of the Fighting Irish. - Josh Flynt ('11)