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January 18, 2013
With a 2-0 mark in Big East play, upcoming home games against UConn, Rutgers, Georgetown and Villanova, and seemingly manageable road trips to St. John's, South Florida and DePaul, one couldn't help but peek ahead and envision an unprecedented start to conference play in their 18 years as a member of the conference.
Two losses and a burst bubble later, the Irish are in the middle of the Big East pack and two games behind undefeated Louisville, Syracuse and Marquette.
"We've been through this league so many times that when you count on something, I've always been burned," said Brey two days after the Irish dropped a 67-63 decision to St. John's, which was on the heels of a 65-58 home loss to Connecticut.
"This is where we're at. This group has been here before. Manage this."
There are plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks for the Irish to make up the ground they lost. But to do that, they'll have to be a whole lot more efficient offensively than they've been the last two games.
Until the losses to the Huskies and Red Storm, the Irish had been held below 69 points just three times in the first 15 games, and all three of those games resulted in victories.
Against Connecticut, the Irish shot just .418 from two-point range and a mere 4-of-7 from the free-throw line. In the loss to St. John's, Notre Dame was 1-of-9 from beyond the arc and turned the basketball over seven times in the first half.
Sixth-year senior Scott Martin attempted a mere five shots in 63 minutes of action against UConn/St. John's. Jack Cooley scored just 10 points in 18 minutes of action against the Red Storm as Brey sat his leading scorer on the bench for the final 11 minutes of the game.
"Our frontline is disappointed in how they played the last two games," Brey said. "Scott and Jack are such a key for us. We need them both going again, and that's been the focus this week. Just trying to get them back into a rhythm.
"I don't think there's a whole lot of over-analysis. Ball reversal is a key. Sometimes we ball screen too early before we reverse the ball. I think it's more frame of mind with our starting four and five men to get that juice back."
Cooley said he had no ill-will toward Brey for sitting him down the stretch against St. John's. Brey played the hot hand of Tom Knight, who provided six points, three rebounds and four blocked shots in 17 minutes of action.
"I was more frustrated with myself that I put (Brey) in that position," Cooley said. "It's a decision coach made and the coach is the coach."
Irish point guard Eric Atkins said the Irish have to get back to what got them to 14-1 and the No. 17/16 national rankings.
"It starts with everybody being good with the ball," said Atkins, who averaged 19.5 points in the two losses with eight assists, six steals (all against St. John's) and four turnovers in 80 minutes of action while converting 13-of-21 shots from the field and 10-of-12 from the line.
"We need to get into a good flow by swinging the ball. Make the defense move. We really got stagnant late in the first half (vs. St. John's), and the second half just doing ball screens. I'm fine with the ball screen, but it has to come within the offense. It shouldn't be the first thing we call for."
Cooley says the Irish must dance with the partner that got them to 14-1.
"Just do what worked for the first 15 games of the season when we passed the ball and made sure we reversed it," Cooley said. "Just play smarter basketball. We haven't been playing very smart basketball the last two games and that's been hurting us."
Both Connecticut and St. John's pressured the basketball, trying to get the Irish out of their flow, which includes a heavy dose of three-point shooting.
"You're not going to get as many threes when they chase you off (the arc) like that," Brey said. "We got some lay-ups against St. John's where you say, 'My God, they're not guarding us.' But they counted for just two, and we couldn't be efficient enough. We needed some of those finishes. The lay-ups our front line missed were deflating."
"My reaction to (ball pressure) is to attack it, go right at it," Atkins said. "I didn't feel like their pressure sped me up. But just slow down when you catch the ball. Go through your progressions. Backdoor cuts. We have plays for that."
The Irish have been down this road before. Every team goes through a lull in conference play. Notre Dame's came earlier than expected.
"It's been more (about) our energy and just getting back to who we are," Brey said. "I almost feel sometimes that you've got to hit the reset button a couple of times throughout the year. Human nature kicks in. Been here, done this. We just need a one-game win streak."
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