Notre Dame hasn’t lost at the Joyce Center in nearly three years, building the nation’s longest home winning streak while establishing itself as a Big East heavyweight.
What the No. 19 Irish haven’t had to do much of in that time is host the nation’s top teams.
Third-ranked Connecticut will be the highest-ranked opponent to visit South Bend in more than 10 years on Saturday when Notre Dame looks to extend its winning streak at the Joyce Center to 46 games.
While the Irish have been unbeatable at home in recent years, they’ve lost their last three road games, including their past two overall.
Notre Dame (12-5, 3-3) turned in perhaps its worst performance of 2008-09 last Saturday at No. 8 Syracuse, shooting a season-low 35.5 percent and losing 93-74. All-American junior Luke Harangody had 25 points, but was just 9-of-28 from the floor.
“This one’s on me,” said Harangody, fifth in the nation with 24.8 points per game. “I’ve reached the time in my career where I need to step up and 9-for-28 from the field is unacceptable. I can’t lay a goose egg like that, especially on the road.”
Notre Dame is 10-12 on the road in Harangody’s career, but it’s never lost at home. The Irish have won all 41 games at the Joyce Center since Harangody arrived, and have won 45 straight there since falling 80-72 to Marquette on Feb. 25, 2006.
Despite the impressive streak, they’ve played only five ranked opponents during that stretch and only two top 10 teams. Notre Dame beat then-No. 9 Georgetown on Jan. 5, when Harangody had 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting in a 73-67 victory.
UConn, however, looks like it’ll be the toughest test yet as the Irish try for a Big East-record 21st straight home conference win. Coach Jim Calhoun’s squad is the highest-ranked team to play at Notre Dame since No. 1 Duke in 1998.
The Huskies (17-1, 6-1) are the only team in the country with five wins over Top 25 opponents, a fact that has leading scorer Jeff Adrien feeling confident.
“It’s going to feel good to break (Notre Dame’s) home winning streak,” Adrien said after UConn’s 76-61 win over Seton Hall on Sunday. “It’s a tough place to play, but we can do it.”
Adrien recorded his fourth straight double-double on Wednesday with 12 points and a game-high 14 rebounds in UConn’s 89-83 home win over No. 20 Villanova.
For the third time in four games, though, A.J. Price led the way. The senior guard, whose career has been marred by a life-threatening brain injury, a season-long suspension over on-campus thefts and major knee surgery, was 10-of-13 from the field and had a career-high 29 points.
“I’m very happy,” Price said. “I’ve been through a lot, some my fault, but Coach has stayed behind me and I’m just going to keep doing what I can do.”
The Huskies will likely need another big effort from Price if they’re to stop Notre Dame’s home streak, and he’s shown to be capable of delivering against the Irish before. Price had 13 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in a 73-67 loss in South Bend on Jan. 5, 2008, then had 26 points and nine assists in an 84-78 win in Storrs last Feb. 13.
Harangody had 32 points and 16 rebounds in that loss, and went 5-of-23 from the field in the Irish’s win over the Huskies.
The top player for Notre Dame in that meeting was Kyle McAlarney, who was 6-of-7 from 3-point range and finished with 32 points.
McAlarney is one of the nation’s top deep threats again as a senior, having made 74 3-pointers and just 22 baskets from inside the arc. He’s 21-of-37 (56.8 percent) from 3-point range in his last four games.
Notre Dame hasn’t lost three in a row since a five-game slide from Jan. 20-Feb. 4, 2006.
These teams will meet again Feb. 28 in Storrs.