Mike Brey’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish carry plenty of confidence with them into every game.
It’s even more pronounced when Notre Dame faces Duke -- and with good reason.
Heading into Saturday night’s ACC tournament championship game (9 p.m, ESPN/WRAL), Notre Dame owns a 5-2 record against Duke over the last four seasons. That includes Irish wins over the Blue Devils in the last two ACC tournaments.
Even though the Blue Devils beat the Irish 84-74 at South Bend, Indiana, on Jan. 30 this season, Notre Dame harbors no fear.
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“Oh we want them, man,” Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger said early Saturday morning after the Irish ousted Florida State, 77-73, in the semifinals Friday at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. “We’ve been looking forward to it. We just look at the next game. We had to look forward to Virginia (in the quarterfinals). We had to look forward to Florida State. Now we get to look forward to Duke. With Duke’s big win over North Carolina, they are probably feeling good about themselves. So we’re excited because we are feeling good about ourselves and it’s going to be a great matchup.”
A former Duke assistant who was on coach Mike Krzyzewski’s bench for the 1991 and 1992 NCAA championship wins, Brey has been more successful head-to-head against his old boss than any other former Krzyzewski assistant.
Brey sidesteps any talk about having a personal edge, though. It’s more about his program needing to make an impact after jumping from the Big East to the ACC four years ago.
“I think they’ve been great matchups,” Brey said. “I think the matchups were good, and our guys have always been very excited to play the Duke program.
“When I got this job (in 2001), when we were able to steal a win from Connecticut or Syracuse, those were real program wins for us. And when we’ve been able to beat the Duke or the North Carolinas, those have been great program wins for us in this league. We’re in the early stages of this league. But our guys have always been excited to play against them.”
Two years ago, Notre Dame beat Duke twice, including an ACC tournament semifinal win at Greensboro. The next night, the Irish beat UNC to win the ACC championship.
While that Irish team made the NCAA tournament Elite Eight before losing to Kentucky, Duke won its next six games to claim the national championship.
Last year, Notre Dame beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the regular season and in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.
The Blue Devils turned things around to win on Notre Dame’s home court this season as part of a seven-game winning streak during the middle of league play.
“Any time you lose to a team earlier in the season you want to get the chance to play them again,” Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia said. “So it’s going to be another great game. Once again we are going to have to defend. They have four or five guys who can score off the dribble and shoot 3s. We’re going to have to guard and come out like we have been.”
Brey said his Irish will do their best to defend Duke’s offense, which is among the most efficient in the country. But a high-scoring game appears to be in the making.
“We got to score,” Brey said. “We’re going to have to score. You’re not stopping them. They’re a gifted offensive team. We’ve got to put numbers on the board. We’ve got to score more than 77 to win (Saturday). Hopefully, we can slow them up a little bit, but we’re going to have to be really efficient offensively.”
ACC tournament championship
Duke vs. Notre Dame
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn
TV: WRAL, ESPN