March 16, 2001
By DOUG TUCKER
AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – No wonder Notre Dame is having trouble getting back on the basketball map. It seems almost no one – least of all the current players – grew up paying attention to anything but Irish touchdowns.
“I always watched football when I was younger,” said senior guard Martin Inglesby, a sheepish grin on his face.
The sixth-seeded Irish hope to continue their return to basketball prominence Friday night when they take on No. 11 seed Xavier in the opening round of the Midwest Regional.
“I don’t remember watching Notre Dame in the (NCAA) tournament,” Inglesby said.
Actually, he and his teammates are almost too young to remember Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament. When the Irish under first-year head coach Mike Brey captured an at-large invitation last Sunday night, it was the first in 11 years for the perennial football power.
“We know about the Notre Dame tradition, with Austin Carr and the great teams in the Final Four,” Ingelsby said. “That’s one of the main reasons why we wanted to bring Notre Dame basketball back to where it was in the past, for those guys who played back then and for us. It will be a great thrill.”
Junior forward Troy Murphy, a 6-foot-11 bruiser, has had more to do than anyone else with getting Notre Dame started back to respectability. What would it mean for the Irish to become a yearly fixture in the NCAA tournament?
“It would mean a lot to the people in the Notre Dame community. But it would mean even more to the people who are directly involved with Notre Dame basketball,” Murphy said.
The late-night matchup between two Catholic schools will be a replay of a second-round game in last year’s NIT that saw Notre Dame beat Xavier 76-64.
The winner will be experiencing something new. Xavier (21-7) ended the season on a two-game losing streak while the Irish (19-9) have lost their last three.
“It’s a big honor to bring Notre Dame back to where it’s been in the past. We’ve had an 11-year drought,” Ingelsby said. “We knew we had the makings to be a special team this year if we played together.”
In the other evening game in Kemper Arena, third-seeded Mississippi (25-7) goes against No. 14 Iona (22-10).
Play begins in the afternoon with second-seeded Arizona (23-7) meeting No. 15 Eastern Illinois (21-9) and No. 7 Wake Forest (19-10) going against No. 10 Butler (23-7).
Notre Dame might have caught a break by being off for a week before beginning its NCAA action.
“We’ve seen that teams that make a big run in their conference tournament don’t necessarily go nuts in this tournament,” Brey said. “We are going to bank on that. I think our hunger is back a little. We weren’t proud of how we played (at the end of the regular season).
“I was part of teams at Duke that lost in the first round of the ACC tournament and then three weeks later was playing for the national championship. It’s not bad to get three days to get your legs back and then get your game back in gear.”
Xavier coach Skip Prosser doubted that last year’s NIT game could be used as a gauge for this year’s showdown.
“I think we’re a different team and hopefully improved since that day because I know Notre Dame has,” he said. “They shoot the ball much better than we do.”
Brey said the Irish have no trouble being motivated for the game.
“It’s easy for us to play with nothing to lose because I haven’t seen anybody who picked us to win,” Brey said. “I keep looking to see if we’re a 15 seed.”
Murphy figured the rest had done the Irish good.
“Personally, I was getting a little tired,” he said. “Coming back in here today, I feel great. The way we’re jumping round, it feels like the first day of practice.
“We’ve waited a long time to be here. Hopefully, we can stay awhile.”