SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Notre Dame headed to South Florida looking for answers.
With sixth-year forward Scott Martin out indefinitely with a bad left knee - possibly even for the season - coach Mike Brey is opening competition for who will take his place. The competition will be between Tom Knight, who has seen more playing time lately, Garrick Sherman, who hasn't played the past two games and freshmen Zach Auguste and Austin Burgett.
"There's a lot of games left. If we have to learn on the fly for a while to have what need to have in February, that's what we've got to do," Brey said.
Brey points out the 24th-ranked Fighting Irish (15-4, 3-3 Big East) have lost key players during two of the past three seasons and still made the NCAA tournament. When Luke Harangody, that squad's leading scorer, injured his knee in February 2010, Brey scrapped his offense and went to a more deliberate style and won six straight. Last season the Irish lost Tim Abromaitis early in the season and still managed to finish 22-12.
"So it's territory we've been in before," Brey said.
The loss of Martin, though, comes at a bad time. Two weeks ago, the Irish were 14-1 overall and a win over Connecticut on Jan. 12 would have given the Irish their best start since opening 24-1 under coach Digger Phelps during the 1973-74 season. Instead they have lost three of four, including two of three at home capped by a 16-point loss against Georgetown on Monday. The Irish will be seeking to turn it around when they play at last-place South Florida (10-8, 1-5) on Saturday.
Brey said the Irish have to play better in all facets. The Irish are averaging 73.1 points a game, but are averaging just 59 points the past four games. Brey said the Irish need to do a better job of screening for each other and getting better shots. The Irish also have been outrebounded in four straight.
Point guard Eric Atkins said believes the Irish need to be better defensively.
"We just have to be a tougher team, grabbing rebounds, getting to the 50-50 balls. Those are just toughness aspects of the game we have to get better at," he said.
Jack Cooley, the leading scorer at 14.8 points a game, said the Irish need to better as a unit.
"This team, especially last year, got through funks as a unit and that's what we're going to have to do this year, come together through adversity," he said.
The Irish will be looking for someone to step up and replace Martin as the team's vocal leader. Brey said he met with the other four starters and told them he's expecting them all to fill the void.
"That needs to be developed over the next couple of weeks. That's something I really need to keep an eye on," he said.
Brey believes part of his team's troubles is that they put so much pressure on themselves to try to win a league title that when things started going wrong the Irish started getting tight. He's telling them to forget all that.
"Let's just play and compete," he said. "Let's not overanalyze this thing."