Blue Devils geared to go at Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

DURHAM, N.C. – When No. 4 Duke and No. 10 Notre Dame met 10 days ago in South Bend, one player did as he pleased, whenever he pleased, however he pleased.

That’s not expected to be the case in Saturday’s rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Following Friday’s practice, guard Quinn Cook, power forward Amile Jefferson and swingman Justise Winslow discussed how the Blue Devils (19-3, 6-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) could be better the second time around. All three in some way, shape or form mentioned that being better means doing a better job in not letting Irish senior guard Jerian Grant get to where he wants to go, and allow him to dictate tempo and pace working off his pet play, the screen and roll.

Grant scored a game-high 23 points with a career-high 12 assists in ND's 77-73 Jan. 28 victory. He also had six rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots.

“We did a lot of great things on him,” said Quinn Cook, Grant’s buddy from the Washington area. “He hit some tough, tough shots.”

Like a pull-up 3 from just inside the halfcourt line. But control Grant and the Blue Devils feel they can control the Irish. Slowing Grant means not allowing Notre Dame’s leading scorer to get out in transition where he has a multitude of options. And when Grant looks to an Irish big to play pick-and-roll, the Blue Devils want to make Grant go east and west instead of north and south to get to the basket.

“He got in our paint a lot and he’s a really good player,” Jefferson said. “A player like that, once he sees a few go in, the rim gets big.

“We just have to fight him, play him tough.”

One way or another, Grant likely will be tired – really tired – trying to figure it out.

“We just want to make him work,” Cook said.

Winslow believes the Blue Devils also will be better at finishing some of the plays, either at the rim or from the free throw line.

“We played very well the first time around,” he said. “In the final minutes, we just didn’t close well. If we can do those two things, we have a good chance of beating a good team.”

Select company

A win Saturday would put the Irish in some select ACC company in only their second season in the league.

Winning at Duke would complete a sweep of sorts for Notre Dame, which already has won this season at North Carolina, located in nearby Chapel Hill, and in nearby Raleigh against North Carolina State. The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area is known in these parts as the Triangle.

According to the ACC associate commissioner/basketball communications Brian Morrison, only six times in league history has a league team completed a “triangle sweep” with victories in one season at the three triangle schools. Georgia Tech was the last team to do it behind guard Stephon Marbury during the 1995-96 season.

A victory Saturday would go a long way in helping Notre Dame carve a league identity.

“That would be really powerful, man,” coach Mike Brey said. “They’re already talking about us a lot down there on Tobacco Road because of who we’ve beaten in the Triangle. That would add to it.”

Wake Forest is the only school with two triangle sweeps. The other schools to go 3-0 in a season are Virginia, Maryland and former league member South Carolina.

Different deal

Prior to last winter, road games for Notre Dame often meant plenty of travel to cities that had just as much, if not more, snow and similar bone-chilling temperatures.

Now that Notre Dame is in the ACC, league road trips mean more travel to southern cities with warmer climes and rarely any sight of snow.

Last time Notre Dame was in the Raleigh-Durham area for a game against North Carolina State two weekends ago, Brey took his cup of coffee from the hotel shop and sat outside under blue skies and temperatures in the 60s.

“I got a little sunburn in Raleigh; I swear to God,” he said. “I was sitting outside, the sun’s hitting me and I’m going, ‘I could be in Newark, N.J., Syracuse, N.Y., Milwaukee, Philadelphia.’”

Friday’s temperatures in the high-40s felt more like shorts weather given the wind chills of Northern Indiana. Saturday’s forecast calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 50s.

“It’s kind of been refreshing to fly into that,” Brey said. “I’ve kind of liked it quite frankly. I don’t mind hearing a southern accent every now and then.”

Back in time

Having Grant Hill work Saturday’s game as a color commentator for CBS is bound to bring back many memories for Brey, who was a Duke assistant when Mike Krzyzewski put a full-court press of sorts on in the late 1980s to recruit Hill out of South Lakes High School in Reston, Va.

Brey was part of a coaching staff contingent that made an in-home visit with Hill and his family. Then-assistant coach Tommy Amaker and Brey accompanied Krzyzewski on a sit that lasted a long time. A very long time.

“Amaker, Mike K. and I were in Grant Hill’s home for six hours,” Brey recalled Thursday.

The visit lasted so long that Hill at one point excused himself to go upstairs to do homework. The Duke coaching staff stayed for dinner and stayed to chat with Hill’s parents, Janet and Calvin, a former NFL running back. Brey said that Calvin Hill entertained the coaches with stories of his time as a running back with the Dallas Cowboys.

Grant Hill eventually committed to Duke and played from 1990 to 1994.

“It was neat being around them for four years,” Brey said of the family.

Baseline bits

• Saturday is the first time anyone on Notre Dame plays a regular season game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Coordinator of basketball operations and former Irish power forward Harold Swanagan did take an unofficial visit to Duke for a game against Michigan during his senior year of high school in Hopkinsville, Ky.

• Notre Dame’s 21-3 start is the best since the 1978-79 team also opened 21-3. The 9-2 ACC mark is the best start for the Irish in league play since Brey’s first team in 2000-01 also opened 9-2 in the Big East.

• Notre Dame ranks second in the nation to Gonzaga for field goal percentage at 52.1. The Irish have shot 50 percent or better in each of their last three games after shooting under 50 percent their previous six.

• A win Saturday gives Duke 20 victories for the 19th consecutive season and 30th time under Krzyzewski.

• Saturday likely will be consecutive sellout No. 385 at Cameron Indoor Stadium (capacity 9,314). The last time Duke did not sell out a home game was Nov. 16, 1990 against Boston College.

• Notre Dame is the fifth Top 10 team Duke has played this season. The Blue Devils are 3-1 with the loss to the Irish late last month. Notre Dame is 1-1 against Top 10 teams this year with the loss to No. 3 Virginia.

• The area around Cameron Indoor Stadium – known as Krzyzewskiville – was alive early Friday afternoon with Duke students, but not everyone was there waiting to snag a spot in the bleachers for Saturday’s game. Duke students are already camped out for the Feb. 18 home game against rival North Carolina.

Final word

“We’re all pretty excited. We’ve been pretty good on the road. We’re going to go in there with a lot of confidence. It’s a great challenge for us. We know it’s going to be a crazy atmosphere. It should be a lot of fun. First time for everything, I guess, right?”

-Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia on playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time.

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Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant had a monster game against No. 4 Duke the first time in an Irish win. Can he do it again Saturday in Cameron Indoor Stadium?SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN