Rutgers-Notre Dame Preview
By TAYLOR BECHTOLD
(AP) -- Notre Dame has a chance to make a big statement in its final Big East tournament appearance.
First, the 24th-ranked Irish will have to get past a Rutgers team that gave them fits earlier this season.
Sixth-seeded Notre Dame starts its conference farewell looking to begin a run to its first title on Wednesday night when it takes on 11th-seeded Rutgers at Madison Square Garden.
The Scarlet Knights (15-15) advanced to the second round with a 76-57 victory over No. 14 DePaul on Tuesday.
While the Irish are headed to the ACC next season, they still have unfinished business in the Big East. Notre Dame (23-8) has made the semifinals each of the last three years, but is 9-17 all-time in this tournament and never reached the title game.
"We've never gotten to Saturday night," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "I'd love to see us get to Saturday night before we head to Tobacco Road."
With the Irish having all but locked up an NCAA tournament at-large berth, another deep run through the bracket would go a long way toward improving their seeding after losing two of its last three to finish in a fifth-place tie with No. 19 Syracuse.
Now they'll have to find a way to contain Rutgers' Wally Judge following his historic performance in the first round. The senior forward finished with a season-high 20 points - tying a Big East tournament record by going 9 for 9 from the field - and 10 rebounds.
"Wally and the whole team, no matter what happened this year, continued to work," Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. "It's not a doubt in my mind that he's improved every single day because of it. It allowed him to have a night like this, a record-setting night like this."
Eli Carter, the team's leading scorer at 14.9 points per game, had a team-high 20 on 9-of-15 shooting in a 69-66 loss in South Bend on Jan. 19. However, the sophomore guard was held to a season-low four on Tuesday.
The Scarlet Knights shot a season-high 61.1 percent against the Blue Demons after failing to hit 50.0 percent their previous 16 games. They've won back-to-back games after dropping 11 of their previous 12.
Notre Dame hopes its defense can play to its potential in this contest. The Irish limited their opponents to an average of 41.0 points on 32.1 percent shooting - including 3 for 33 from 3-point range - in their last three wins, but allowed 72.0 points per game on 50.9 percent shooting in their last three losses.
They gave up 37 first-half points on 16-of-24 shooting in a 73-57 loss at No. 8 Louisville in their regular-season finale on Saturday.
The Irish will try to get first-team All-Big East selection Jack Cooley on track since he's totaled just 19 points in his last three games. The senior forward had 19 and 10 rebounds - one of his conference-leading 19 double-doubles - in the January win over Rutgers.
Sophomore Pat Connaughton added 17 points and hit 4 of 6 from 3-point range, while junior Eric Atkins had 14 and knocked down a pair of clutch free throws to seal that victory.
The Irish are looking for a better performance from Jerian Grant after he finished with eight points on 2-of-12 shooting against the Cardinals. The junior guard led the team with 21 points in each of his two previous contests.
Notre Dame has won eight of the last 10 meetings in this series and is 2-1 all-time versus Rutgers in the Big East tournament.
The winner of this game will play No. 12 and third-seeded Marquette in the quarterfinals on Thursday night.
Updated March 13, 2013