Despite getting off to its best start in four years, Notre Dame insists it still has something to prove.
The 20th-ranked Fighting Irish (8-1) look to extend their winning streak to eight games when they host Portland (2-10) on Tuesday night.
This is the third of seven straight home games for Notre Dame, which pounded Elon 94-63 on Saturday after two consecutive wins against ranked teams.
“We were picked 11th in the (Big East) preseason poll. It was nice territory to teach in and operate in because we were way off the map and poor,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “I’ve told them, `Even though we’ve put some money in the bank, can we still play poor? Can we still play poor? Because we have a long way to go.’ I think they’ve done that.”
Russell Carter led the Irish with 21 points while Rob Kurz had 16 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and four blocked shots. Notre Dame played without third-leading scorer Colin Falls, who was recovering from shock wave therapy for an inflammation in his left foot.
Falls, averaging 13.8 points, is questionable for Tuesday’s contest and Thursday’s game against Army.
“Colin does more than just shoot the ball; he’s kind of a calming presence on us,” Brey said. “All of the sudden when he’s not out there, Russ took over for that, and Kyle (McAlarney) took over for some of that, and Kurz did some of that. Those guys can and will get more experience at leading while Falls is out.”
The Irish—off to their best start since opening 12-1 in 2002-03—are looking to win eight in a row for the first time since that season, when they finished 24-10 and advanced to the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament, their last appearance in the field of 65.
Notre Dame has scored at least 90 points in six of its nine games and is averaging 87.1 points, sixth nationally. Last season, it scored 90 points only three times in 30 games and averaged 76.4. In 2004-05, the Irish didn’t hit 90 once while averaging 67.3 points.
“When you score 94 points and have 22 assists, that’s an unselfish and efficient offense,” Brey said. “Last week was a defining moment for this team.”
The Irish could have a chance for another rout against Portland, which is struggling offensively. The Pilots are averaging 57 points per game and have scored more than 70 just once.
Portland has lost seven straight games and is 0-6 away from home. The Pilots, shooting 39.1 percent on the season, lost 68-51 at Weber State on Saturday to give them their longest losing streak since a 10-game slide during the 2001-02 season.
“We had an uncharacteristic first half from a defensive standpoint,” Portland coach Eric Reveno said. “We dug ourselves a hole and that allowed (Weber State’s) confidence to rise. It was an even game after our early stumble, but we don’t have the offensive firepower to get out of an early hole like that.”
The Pilots, 0-12 against ranked teams since 2000, play No. 21 Oregon on Dec. 28 and have two West Coast Conference games against No. 22 Gonzaga.
Notre Dame leads the series with Portland 4-0. The teams haven’t met since the 1990-91 season.