SAN DIEGO (AP) — Mike Brey knows more than anyone that sleep can be overrated during the NCAA Tournament.
Fresh off an 89-87 double overtime victory over Rutgers in Wednesday's First Four in Dayton, Ohio, Brey and his Notre Dame squad arrived in Southern California early Thursday morning without much time to prepare for Friday's West Region first-round matchup against sixth-seeded Alabama.
Brey said 11th-seeded Notre Dame's flight landed at 4:30 a.m. About 13 hours later, the team had a brief walkthrough at Viejas Arena.
“We were up and out quick. And thank God young people are young people. ... You just keep going on fumes,” Brey said. “But when you wake up after maybe 3-4 hours of sleep and it’s 80 (degrees) and you are looking at the water, it’s pretty good because South Bend probably has lake-effect snow.”
Paul Atkinson, who led the Irish with 26 points and had the game-winning basket against Rutgers, said some players were able to sleep on the plane and that over the course of the flight everyone was able to calm down from the adrenaline-fueled game.
Brey, who said after the game he was hoping to have some Irish whiskey on the flight to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, opted to watch video of Alabama.
“That was a better strategy than opening up some Jameson. But I’m going to get to that,” Brey said.
Brey is also hoping that an overtime victory in the First Four continues to bode well. Last year, UCLA beat Michigan State in overtime and used that as a springboard for a Final Four run.
While some have criticized the selection committee for making Notre Dame go across the country, Brey reiterated he was happy to be in the field.
“Maybe earlier in my career and back in the Big East days, I would get more anxious about, oh, our seed and we deserve this and this should be that,” he said. “One of the things I told them, you just want access this time of year. You’ve got to have access to the tournament. Forget the seeds.”
Even before facing Rutgers, Notre Dame's players had been preparing for the Crimson Tide.
“We’ve got a good grasp on what they do. We’ll continue to prepare and kind of look at it in more detail,” Ryan said.
Alabama coach Nate Oats said Notre Dame's shorter rotation might be an advantage for the Crimson Tide.
“The issue is they are smart and handle it and if you get overly aggressive against them, they will make you pay, go back door or whatever. They’re a high-IQ, really talented offensive group,” Oats said. “Hopefully we can get into their depth a little bit. But they control tempo pretty well, too, and don’t play particularly fast. I’m sure they’ll try to do that again tomorrow.”
Notre Dame (23-10) usually goes with only a seven-player rotation and has five averaging at least 29 minutes per game. But Brey thinks the experience of his squad can help it weather long stretches.
Brey added that he rotated players a little bit more against Rutgers than he did during the season, and he may use a similar strategy on Friday.
“We feel our guys are in pretty good shape. Old guys know how to play long minutes. And our older guys know how to do that,” he said. “But you know, our seven are our seven. Those are the guys we’ve ridden to this point.”
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