Notre Dame coach Mike Brey thought his team was a bit lethargic and unfocused in its most recent game. He doesn’t envision that being a problem the rest of the way.
After eight days off, the seventh-ranked Fighting Irish look to come out energized on Wednesday when they begin the quest for their first Big East title against DePaul in the conference opener for both teams.
Notre Dame (9-2) finished tied for second place in the Big East with Louisville last season, and despite returning reigning Big East player of the year Luke Harangody, the Irish have been picked to finish fourth in 2008-09.
They haven’t won the conference’s regular season title since joining the Big East in 1995-96, and Brey doesn’t believe his players will need any extra motivation as they compete in a highly competitive league loaded with seven ranked teams.
“Everybody had better have their seat belts on because this is going to be an unbelievable ride,” Brey said.
The Irish came out a bit flat in their final tuneup for conference play, an 81-49 victory over Savannah State on Dec. 22, but Brey thought that might have had to do with his players looking ahead for some time off for Christmas.
“It’s human nature,” he said.
Notre Dame shot 34.3 percent (12-for-35) from the floor in the first half - its second-worst shooting half this season - but bounced back in the second to make 14-of-21.
The Irish, though, were solid again defensively, setting a season low in points allowed and limiting the Tigers to 36.5 percent from the field. Notre Dame has held its last four opponents to an average of 58.3 points on 37.8 percent shooting.
Harangody had a rough outing in the Irish’s last game, but made up for it at the foul line. He was 5-of-14 from the field, but finished with 23 points and made 13 of 14 free throws.
“It was just one of those nights where you’re not making it from the field and that’s going to happen,” Harangody said. “You just have to keep shooting, which I did, and I kept getting to the line.”
Harangody, the preseason conference player of the year, is one of the top scorers in the Big East, averaging 22.7 points. He had 53 points and 23 rebounds in the two games against DePaul (8-5) last season with Notre Dame winning both.
The Irish have won three straight over the Blue Demons, and are 4-2 against DePaul since it joined the Big East in 2005-06. This is the only meeting of the season between the programs.
DePaul, which has been picked to finish 15th in the 16-team league, wrapped up its non-conference schedule with Sunday’s 90-67 win over Alcorn State.
Dar Tucker, also one of the top scorers in the Big East (19.8 ppg), shook off a lingering flu to score 25 points and make 4-of-8 from 3-point range against the Braves. As a freshman last season, Tucker scored 47 points in two games versus Notre Dame as he went 11-of-17 from beyond the arc.
The Blue Demons have won four of five games since a 72-54 loss to then-No. 16 UCLA - their only game of the season against a ranked opponent. DePaul has lost seven straight games against Top 25 teams since an 84-76 win over No. 17 Villanova on Jan. 3, 2008 - last season’s Big East opener.