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December 22, 2008

A pain in the glass

Looking for the next trendy rebounding drill?

Notre Dame isn't, even with that phase of the game turning into a persistent pain for a team aware it must improve on the glass to grab this season's full potential. But there will be no introduction of shoulder pads in practice, no bonus points awarded for the perfect box out.

Instead the Irish will focus on eliminating the need for offensive rebounding entirely.

"Just make a shot, that's all we can do," said point guard Tory Jackson.

OK, so it's not all the Irish can do, but it's a big part of the solution. Notre Dame (8-2) made plenty of shots in its weekend blowout of lowly Delaware State and should repeat the effort tonight against Savannah State (7-4) at the Joyce Center.

The Irish shot 33-of-64 (51.6 percent) against the Hornets in an 88-50 rout. With Kyle McAlarney six points from scoring 1,000 for his career, the focus figures to be more on shooting tonight than what comes after it.

That's all fine for head coach Mike Brey, sensitive to the preservation of his team's free-flowing style. For Brey, too much emphasis on rebounding in practice means his team's offensive rhythm suffers and suddenly one of the Big East's most lethal attacks stops playing to its biggest strength.

"The worst thing in the world would be to do block out drills and get three of my shooters hurt," Brey said. "I think it's something you have to keep emphasizing to a couple guys that we need more of that from them. The know it."

Jackson might be part of that solution as one of the Big East's better rebounding guards after he averaged 5.1 rebounds last season. The junior, averaging 4.2 boards this year, said he expects Brey to let him crash the glass more and protect against outlet breaks less.

The trade could pay dividends beyond statistics.

"It kind of hurts the demeanor of the other team when a guard can go down there and rebound over a bigger guy and get an easy tip-in or something like that," Jackson said. "I feel like that's what we can do. We've been doing it before, we probably need to go back to it."

A frontcourt assist for Luke Harangody would help too.

The Big East Player of the Year ranks second in the conference at 11.9 rebounds per game and could use help from forwards Luke Zeller (4.8) and Zach Hillesland (6.4) up front. In losses to North Carolina and Ohio State along with narrow wins over Texas and Boston University, Notre Dame was out-rebounded by an average of 8.3 per game.

An added emphasis on rebounding could help Tyrone Nash get off the bench too. The sophomore played 14 minutes against Delaware State and posted 10 points and five boards. He led the team with three offensive rebounds.

While Brey is hesitant to overcorrect while searching for a rebounding boost, he'd rather tinker with switching defenses to create a boarding edge, his players know their rebounding most improve. Getting there might be as simple as acknowledging the problem.

"It's a big deal," Hillesland said. "I don't think it has to be a character thing to say you need to be a fundamental block out guy. That's something that everyone should be able to do, just block out your man. Not everyone is going to have the same nose for the ball as Luke (Harangody) or the same body as Luke."

But the Irish don't need a Harangody clone. A willingness to bang down low will do, along with a few more made shots.



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