SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -Notre Dame coach Mike Brey doesn't want Luke Harangody playing in the NCAA tournament like he's the Big East player of the year.
Harangody struggled as the Fighting Irish lost 89-79 to Marquette in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament two days after being selected the league's player of the year, and Brey doesn't want him feeling any added burden when fifth-seeded Notre Dame (24-7) faces No. 12-seed George Mason (23-10) in an East Regional game in Denver on Thursday.
``I don't want him thinking, 'I'm the player of the year in the league, I have to deliver,''' Brey said. ``Just play, man. Because when he just plays and doesn't worry about stuff, he's much better.''
Brey sat down with Harangody last week after the loss to Marquette to talk to him about the need to play with the same attitude he had last season or early this season, when most people didn't know who he was. Brey calls it ``playing poor.''
Playing poor is what made Harangody a player of the year candidate, Brey said.
``Try to enjoy playing,'' Brey told Harangody.
The 6-foot-8, 251-pound Harangody admits feeling as though there's been a target on him as teams have focused increasingly on him. It's easy to see why. He's averaging 20.8 points and 10.2 rebounds and was even better in conference games, averaging 23.3 points and 11.3 rebounds.
But he hasn't always played well in big games. He had one of his worst games last season against Winthrop in the NCAA tournament, finishing with just four points and one rebound.
Harangody said his poor play in that game was one of his biggest motivators to get in better shape during the offseason. Before this season he lost 10 pounds, gained muscle and ate healthier. It's paid off so far this year, and he's hoping to play better on Thursday.
``I'm looking forward to getting back there and getting another crack at another NCAA tournament game and sort of have a little, I don't know, redemption because I had to look at that the whole off season, having that four-point, one-rebound game. That was a long time to think about it,'' Harangody said.
Harangody injured his ankle in that game and only played 17 minutes, but said that wasn't to blame for his performance. He said like last week against Marquette, he had trouble getting into his rhythm against Winthrop. Part of it might have been how excited he was to be playing in the NCAA tournament.
``I remember getting into Washington, the day we had practice, and just getting to the hotel and you could feel that energy and that feeling like, 'This is for real now. You're at the NCAA tournament,''' he said.
After the kind of season he's had, Harangody believes he's better suited to deal with those emotions this year.
``Just being in a state where my emotions aren't going to jolt me if I don't get off to a good start,'' he said.
Brey describes Harangody as the type of player who always wants to come out and prove himself after a bad game.
``That can be good, but it also can be bad. I don't want him to try too hard,'' Brey said. ``That's one of the reasons I spent some time with him to relax a little bit, smile and play and don't overdo it.''

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