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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame looks for 5th straight win against defending national champions

Notre Dame will play its second straight contest on the road Tuesday night, traveling to Charlottesville, Virginia to take on the Virginia Cavaliers. The Irish (15-8, 6-6 ACC), coming off a come-from-behind road win against Clemson (11-12, 5-8 ACC), are looking to win their fifth consecutive game and sixth in their last eight.

Anthony Reo
Irish sophomore guard Dane Goodwin shoots from beyond the arc during Notre Dame's 80-72 win over Pitt on Wednesday.

Head Coach Mike Brey praised his team’s improved offense during its recent hot streak.

“We’re being really efficient offensively and we’re making big shots,” Brey said, speaking after the win over Clemson. 

Brey also attributed the Irish’s recent success to their senior leadership.

“This is an older group,” Brey said. “I was waiting for them in December and early January to show some of the mental toughness they’ve had these last seven games. It’s neat to see, we do have very good senior leadership.”  

Brey specifically praised the poise of graduate student guard Rex Pflueger, who, after taking a secondary role in the offense for much of the season, scored a season-high 18 points against Clemson.

“Nobody deserves it more,” Brey said. “The kid wants it so bad. His leadership in the huddles down the stretch [is] fabulous.”

Against Virginia, the Irish will need all the offense they can get.

The Cavaliers, the defending national champions, are known for their stout defense. This year is no different, as they lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 51.7 points per game. They also lead the country in opponent field goal percentage. Opponents shoot just over 36 percent, and just over 29 percent from beyond the arc. 

Despite the strong defense, Virginia plays at a slow pace, and averages just 56.8 points per game. They are led offensively by senior forward Mamadi Diakite, who averages 13.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

“We know that every single ACC game is going to be a difficult one,” Pflueger said. “It doesn’t matter their record, doesn’t matter who it is, they’re all going to be good games. Our mentality going in is that it might be an ugly win, but we’ve got to fight.” 

Another interesting statistic is that both Virginia and Notre Dame are both in the top three teams for fewest fouls, and neither team turns the ball over very often. 

After losing four key contributors to their title-winning team last year, Virginia has taken a step back and are not currently ranked. The Cavaliers had won three straight, including a win over No. 8 Florida State, before falling in a close game to No. 5 Louisville on the road. 

Six of Notre Dame’s eight losses have been by five points or fewer, and most of their wins have been close as well. Pflueger commented on the maturity this team has shown throughout the season.

“We’ve been in a lot of situations like [the game against Clemson] so far this season, and I think we have a very mature team,” Pflueger said. “We have the same team we did last year, and I think we’re starting to find our groove a little bit.”

The game against the Virginia Cavaliers tips off Tuesday at 9 p.m.