Mountaineers pay visit to 20th-ranked Fighting IrishFeb 22, 2012 - 4:23 PM South Bend, IN (Sports Network) - Matching their longest win streak in Big East Conference play ever, the 20th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish try to extend their run of good fortune tonight as they host the West Virginia Mountaineers at the Joyce Center in South Bend.
Not only have the Fighting Irish won eight straight games in conference play, the team has accomplished the feat by defeating half of their opponents on the road and three of the eight squads were nationally ranked, so it is not as though Notre Dame is picking on the weaker programs in the league.
Over the weekend the team was pitted against Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and it appeared as though the team's run through the Big East was about to come to an end, but somehow the Irish pushed the game to overtime and ended up securing the 74-70 triumph. According to the school's media relation's office, the 20-point deficit that the Irish faced in the first half and subsequently erased in the second half and overtime was the largest comeback in program history.
Notre Dame, which is now tied for second in the conference standings with Marquette at 11-3, has been doing all this damage while missing Tim Abromaitis who went down with a knee injury almost right away in November.
As for the Mountaineers, they've been out of action since last Thursday when they took care of Pittsburgh at the Petersen Events Center, 66-48. The victory snapped a two-game slide for a WVU program which has won just twice in the last seven outings and is now stuck in the middle of the pack in the conference standings at 7-7.
As far as the all-time series is concerned, the Irish own a 26-12 edge over WVU thanks in part to a 55-51 win in Morgantown just two weeks ago. When it comes to games played in South Bend, Notre Dame has taken all but two of 18 encounters versus the Mountaineers.
Ahead by just a single point at the break last week in Pittsburgh, the Mountaineers put together strong efforts at both ends of the floor in the second half and rolled to the 18-point win against their long-time foe. Kevin Jones registered another double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds and Truck Bryant showed signs of life with 15 points off the bench for the visitors. Deniz Kilicli tacked on 14 points and Gary Browne another 12 as the team survived just 2-of-11 shooting behind the three-point line. Over the course of 27 games this season, Jones has proven himself to be one of the top performers in the conference, averaging 20.4 points and 11.3 rebounds per contest, leading the Mountaineers in both departments. Bryant brings another 16.7 ppg to the table, but his 31.3 percent shooting behind the three-point line is nothing to get excited about. In fact, the team as a whole is shooting a mere 31.4 percent on the perimeter overall and only 29.7 percent in conference games.
Jack Cooley generated his fourth straight double-double with 18 points and a game-high 13 rebounds on Saturday at Villanova as the Fighting Irish never lost hope and eventually picked up the four-point overtime win in Philadelphia. Cooley, who was named the Big East Player of the Week for the first time in his career last week, is the first Notre Dame player to have four straight double-doubles since Luke Harangody turned the trick in late March 2009. Pat Connaughton knocked down 7-of-12 shots from three-point range against the Wildcats as he finished with a team-best 21 points, followed by Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant with 17 and 10 points, respectively, the latter also handing out nine assists. Just taking into account conference games, Cooley is averaging a double-double for the program with his 14.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per contest, shooting 61.4 percent from the field and also logging 23 blocked shots as he stays close to the rim at both ends of the floor. Grant (13.0 ppg) checks in with a total of 74 assists over 14 league bouts, making his mere 34.2 percent shooting from the floor and bit more tolerable.
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