Notre Dame, UCLA to renew basketball rivalry in 2018-19

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Promise kept.

When Notre Dame coach Mike Brey and then-assistant Martin Ingelsby were recruiting a guard from California three years ago, they told his parents that the Irish men’s basketball program would get back to the Golden State at least once during their son’s four seasons in South Bend.

Halfway through his collegiate career, there had been no movement toward that moment.

Until Friday.

Irish guard Rex Pflueger gets the chance to go home following the early-afternoon announcement that Notre Dame and UCLA will renew their storied basketball rivalry.

The teams will meet over two consecutive seasons – 2018-19 and 2019-20, with the first game at Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 8, 2018. That coincides with Pflueger’s senior season.

“I’m so excited to be going back home for a game next year,” Pflueger said in a university statement announcing the series.

The closest Pflueger will get to playing close to his California roots arrives in late November when Notre Dame participates in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. That will be the first time Pflueger has played a college basketball game west of the Mississippi River.

Still, Maui sits 2,510 miles away from Pflueger’s hometown of Dana Point.

Friday’s series news coincided with Pflueger’s 21st birthday. He earned Orange County player of the year honors after averaging 17.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.0 steals per game for Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif.

Outside of renewing the series with Marquette – the teams first were independent rivals and then most recently Big East colleagues – Brey is most often asked about when Notre Dame will again play UCLA. It's the one gotta-get game on the schedule.

Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, it was common for the teams to meet twice a year in a home-and-home that had many a classic matchup. That included the game on Jan. 19, 1974 when Notre Dame roared back from a late deficit for a 71-70 win to snap the Bruins' 88-game win streak.

The game is still considered one of the greatest the game has ever seen.

“The Notre Dame-UCLA basketball series is synonymous with college basketball,” Brey said in a statement.

UCLA leads the all-time series 28-20.

Next season will be the first meeting between the teams since Luke Harangody scored 23 points to lead five Irish in double figures in an 84-73 victory over the Bruins on Dec. 19, 2009 at Purcell Pavilion.

One reason the series stopped was that it became increasingly more difficult for the schools to agree on a date. Neither team wanted to play too early in the season, or even later. Following a 26-point loss to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion in 2009, which at the time served as the most lopsided in Brey's tenure at Notre Dame, he vowed to never again schedule a non-conference road game, let alone one that called for the Irish to travel to California, in the middle of league play.

That UCLA was part of a seven-game Irish losing streak.

Both teams also balked at UCLA having to come East close to Christmas, which would mean the Notre Dame student body would be home for winter break. So the series just kind of faded into the college basketball background.

Next season will be Notre Dame’s first trip to Pauley Pavilion, which underwent a $136 million renovation five years ago, since Feb. 7, 2009.

Notre Dame is 7-17 all-time at Pauley. It last won in Westwood on Feb. 28, 2004.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @tnoieNDI

Notre Dame and UCLA renew its storied basketball rivalry in 2018. (AP File Photo)