|Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey concentrated on getting his players ready during a pracice session on Thursday. (AP)|
Notre Dame hoping for a long NCAA Tournament run
Irish are hoping for a deeper legacy
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Other than those key-lime-crashes-into-neon-green uniforms Notre Dame trashed for the NCAA Tournament, there was one other thing that made the Fighting Irish the talk of college basketball for a few days this season.
On Feb. 9, they defeated Louisville in an epic, five-overtime thriller, a game with more plot twists than any Hollywood movie.
To some Notre Dame fans, it was the only game.
‘‘It’s the game of the year,’’ said coach Mike Brey, adding wherever he goes in South Bend fans bring it up. ‘‘That’s all they know we played. They don’t know how many games we’ve lost since then, thank God. They don’t remember the two thumpings Louisville gave us. They remember that one.’’
The seventh-seeded Irish (25-9) are hoping to make more memories on Friday when they play 10th-seeded Iowa State (22-11) in the second round of the West Regional in Dayton, Ohio.
Brey has Notre Dame in the tournament for the fourth straight year, and he’s trusting his team can make a deeper run this March after being bounced in its opener last year by Xavier.
Brey knows his way around the brackets better than most. One of Mike Krzyzewski’s assistants at Duke, he was a member of six Final Four teams and two national champions. On Friday, Brey will be participating in his 53d NCAA Tournament game, a staggering number.
There’s nothing that can replace tournament experience, and Brey is counting on his players, especially junior starting guards Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins, to be more prepared to handle the big stage this time around.
‘‘They played older than they were [last year] to get us the bid,’’ he said. ‘‘And then in the postseason I thought they played their age a little bit, especially in the Xavier game. Experience helps in everything in college basketball in that you’ve been part of the tournament once.
‘‘It can be a great advantage.’’
The well-balanced Cyclones, who have six players averaging at least 9.3 points, also feel good about their run-up to the NCAAs.
The nation’s leader in 3-pointers, Iowa State relies on its outside attack, which is not that surprising given that the Cyclones are coached by Fred Hoiberg, who starred at the school and had his jersey number retired in Ames.
Hoiberg gives his players the green light to launch whenever they’re so inclined. Iowa State makes 9.8 3-pointers per game, and the Cyclones have dropped 325 shots from behind the arc this season.
The Cyclones scored 89 and 96 points against Kansas, the No. 1 seed in the South Regional, but lost both games. Still, it’s the kind of game they prefer, and Brey knows Iowa State will want to push the tempo.
‘‘They’re unique,’’ he said. ‘‘We played some similar teams in our league, but not anything like this.’’