Big East Battle

Luke Harangody has been a dominant force during Notre Dame's current five-game winning streak, but he had his worst shooting performance of the season the last time he faced Hasheem Thabeet and Connecticut.

Two of the Big East's most talented sophomores will again go toe-to-toe when the No. 17 Huskies and the 20th-ranked Fighting Irish face off Wednesday in Storrs, Conn., in a meeting of the league's hottest teams.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Connecticut –5.5 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 56% of bets for this game have been placed on Notre Dame +5.5 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

The first time Notre Dame (18-4, 8-2) and UConn (18-5, 7-3) met, on Jan. 5, they were unranked and all but afterthoughts in the Big East. The Huskies erased a 21-point deficit, only to lose 73-67 in South Bend.

In that game, the 6-foot-8 Harangody was just 5-of-23 from the field while the 7-foot-3 Thabeet matched a career high with 10 blocked shots, but Notre Dame's Kyle McAlarney was 6-of-7 from 3-point range and scored a career-high 32 points to pace the Irish.

"This game tells us that next time, if we start well, we can do anything," Thabeet said after that meeting. "We could win the game, but when we start slow, this is what happens."

A little more than a month later, the teams have won a combined 12 in a row entering Wednesday's game.

Harangody has keyed the Irish's run, averaging 25.0 points and 12.4 rebounds over the last five games while notching double-doubles in each of those wins - two against ranked teams.

He had 18 points and 11 rebounds in Notre Dame's 86-83 victory over Marquette on Saturday.

"He has been playing awesome," Irish guard Ryan Ayers said. "He has just gotten so much better, not even making jump shots, but on the defensive game he attacks the ball, rebounds and is more physical out there. He is a guy who just keeps pushing and works hard every day. So expect more of that from Luke."

Harangody is a big reason Notre Dame entered this week second in the conference standings after being picked to finish ninth in the Big East preseason coaches' poll. While UConn could pull even with the Irish in the league standings with a victory, both teams enter riding five-game winning streaks in conference play.

"I think they're better than when we played them in the second game of the (conference) season, but I also think we're better," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "I know that they want to get their hands on us."

The Huskies have won seven in a row overall - three over ranked teams. They earned an 80-68 non-league win over Georgia Tech on Saturday despite playing their fifth straight game without suspended starting guard Jerome Dyson.

Against the Yellow Jackets, Thabeet had a career-high 24 points along with 15 rebounds and six blocked shots, shooting 9-of-11 from the floor. Leading scorer Jeff Adrien added 23 points and 11 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the season.

Much like against Notre Dame, it was Thabeet's defense that really impressed UConn coach Jim Calhoun.

"When a (Georgia Tech) guy pump-fakes four times and shoots the ball over the basket I'm not sure what that is, but it's something," Calhoun said. "There's no stat for it. ... He was sensational."

While Thabeet and the Huskies have held their last five opponents to an average of 62.4 points, they will be facing an Irish squad which leads the Big East in scoring at 80.8 points per game.

A win for Notre Dame would match the best 23-game start overall and best 11-game start in conference play in eight seasons under Brey.

The Irish have played just once at Gampel Pavilion, losing 85-65 during the 1995-96 season. They're 1-7 all-time against the Huskies in Connecticut, mostly playing at the Hartford Civic Center.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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