Rutgers-Notre Dame Preview
By JEFF MEZYDLO
(AP) -- If Notre Dame is to avoid its longest losing streak in almost three years, the Fighting Irish will likely need to regain the form that's made them one of the top shooting teams in the country.
Hoping for a more consistent offensive effort, the No. 20 Irish try to avoid a third straight loss while looking for a ninth consecutive home win over Rutgers on Saturday night.
Notre Dame shot 53.3 percent and averaged 78.3 points during a 12-game winning streak, but baskets were harder to come by in a 65-58 home loss to Connecticut last Saturday and a 67-63 defeat at St. John's on Tuesday.
The Irish (14-3, 2-2 Big East) rank among the national leaders in field-goal percentage at 50.6 and 3-point shooting at 40.8. However, they shot 42.9 percent overall as UConn snapped their 17-game home win streak.
Notre Dame made 47.1 percent from the field against the Red Storm, but were done in by a 1-of-9 effort from beyond the arc.
Eric Atkins had a season-high 21 points Tuesday for Notre Dame, which erased a 12-point second-half deficit but could not hold a late two-point lead.
"I loved how we fought back and gave ourselves a chance to win," coach Mike Brey said. "I think for us to win against anybody in this league, our offensive efficiency has to be for more than 25 minutes."
Brey also hopes his squad performs better on the glass after being outrebounded in three straight games, including 15-8 on the offensive boards by St. John's. Senior Jack Cooley is averaging a team-leading 10.7 rebounds, but he's managed 7.3 over the last three contests and grabbed a season-low five against the Red Storm.
Cooley had a big performance in a 71-53 home rout of Rutgers on Feb. 15, scoring 22 points and pulling down 18 rebounds. The Scarlet Knights (12-4, 3-2) have lost their last eight at Notre Dame by an average of 12.5 points.
If Rutgers can find a way to end its struggles at the Joyce Center, it would also snap an 18-game road skid against ranked opponents.
Wally Judge scored 14 points as the Scarlet Knights overcame South Florida's 50.0 percent shooting effort to win 70-67 at home Thursday. The Bulls' Martino Brock had a 3-point attempt rim out just before the buzzer.
"If you watch Big East games, that's what every Big East game seems to be," Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. "It's not a thing of beauty, but you have to find a way."
While the Scarlet Knights have won two of three overall, leading scorer Eli Carter has averaged 9.0 - nearly seven below his season mark - and shot 8 of 35 (22.9 percent) during that stretch.
Ranked 17th last week, Notre Dame could still drop out of the Top 25 next week even if it avoids its first three-game slide since Feb. 11-17, 2010.
Updated January 18, 2013