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Notre Dame looks to end three-game losing streak

Sunday, January 25, 2009

By TOM COYNE

AP Sports Writer

SOUTH BEND -- After weeks of answering questions about trying to keep the nation's longest home winning streak alive, Notre Dame now must find a way to end its longest losing streak in three years.

"We've lost three in a row in the Big East. That's what everyone's focusing on right now in this locker room," guard Kyle McAlarney said. "We need to win. It's tough because that's the way the league goes."

The 19th-ranked Irish lost 69-61 to third-ranked Connecticut on Saturday. That followed an 87-73 overtime loss to No. 9 Louisville and a 93-74 loss to No. 8 Syracuse. Now the Irish face No. 11 Marquette (17-2) on Monday, then play at fourth-ranked Pittsburgh (17-1) on Saturday, quite possibly the toughest five-game stretch in Notre Dame history.

"Every game feels almost like a playoff game, a tournament game," forward Zach Hillesland said. "Because with teams you have coming at you night in, night out in this league you're going to have to play your best to win."

The problem for the Irish (12-6, 3-4 Big East), who already have as many league losses as they had all of last season, is they haven't been playing their best. The Irish, who are shooting 44.5 percent, have had their two worst performances in back-to-back games, making just 35.5 percent of their shots against Syracuse and 32.9 percent against UConn.

Luke Harangody, a junior who suffered his first loss at the Joyce Center on Saturday, has played solidly throughout. His teammates, though, have struggled.

McAlarney hit his first three shots against UConn, then missed his next 15. Zach Hillesland is 1-of-8 shooting for two points the past two games. Ryan Ayers was 1-of-10 shooting against UConn. Tory Jackson is 6-of-22 shooting with nine assists the past two games.

The struggles have coach Mike Brey contemplating lineup changes against Marquette.

"When you lose three in a row, all options are open, to even start the game differently," Brey said. "Do you start differently and change how you come out of the gate?"

He also indicated the changes could mean either Tyrone Nash, whose only significant playing time in league action was 12 minutes against St. John's, or Carleton Scott, who has no significant time in league play, could play.

"I'd like to get them in there a little bit more, at least one of them in the first half," he said.

Nash played the final two minutes against UConn and scored eight points. Hillesland believes Nash and Scott could give the Irish a boost.

"It will give us two fresh bodies that are ready to go in and battle, and certainly you need as many horses as you can in this league," he said. "Hopefully it will jolt us a little bit."

Brey said a win against Marquette, which is 6-0 in Big East play, would help.

"To be 4-4 in this league after Monday night, that's kind of what you've got to try to do in this league right now. Because .500 in this league is going to be pretty good," he said.



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