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Notre Dame-DePaul remains big-time rivalry

Notre Dame's Jack Cooley reacts after call goes against DePaul later second half an NCAA college basketball game Saturday Feb.

Notre Dame's Jack Cooley reacts after a call goes against DePaul later in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/South Bend Tribune, Greg Swiercz)

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Updated: March 3, 2013 6:07AM

DePaul-Notre Dame was among the top rivalries in the country
during the schools’ days as independents, and it had the promise of rekindling when the Blue Demons joined the Fighting Irish in the Big East in 2005.

But Notre Dame and DePaul have gone in different directions in recent years, with the Irish remaining among the better teams in the country and the Demons struggling.

That doesn’t make for much of a rivalry, does it?

‘‘It is for us; it really is,’’ Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. ‘‘When I got this job 13 years ago, the first thing people asked was, ‘When
are we going to play DePaul and UCLA again?’

‘‘Any time there’s a lead-up to the [DePaul] game, our fans start talking about DePaul games of the past. I know it’s [important] to our fans.’’

DePaul coach Oliver Purnell also understands the history of the teams, and he said he would remind his players of it as they prepared for the 103rd game between the rivals Saturday.

‘‘I think certainly it’s a rivalry with our fans, and that’s something we’ll bring up to our kids — to have them understand this always has been a rivalry game, going back to when both teams were independents,” he said. ‘‘I think that feeling continues in terms of how people at DePaul feel [about wanting] to beat Notre Dame.’’

Beating the Irish (17-4, 5-3) is the latest daunting challenge for a
Demons team that has won only once in its last eight games overall and hasn’t beaten Notre Dame in the teams’ last seven meetings.

DePaul (10-10, 1-6) fell in overtime Wednesday at St. John’s, but Purnell said he thought his team competed better defensively, mixing in a zone with its usual pressure style.

But the Demons’ offense remains a problem. They committed 18 turnovers against St. John’s and shot only 35.7 percent, more than negating their 52-39 rebounding advantage.

‘‘We turned the ball over too much, and our shot selection is suspect,’’ Purnell said. ‘‘Our offense has to be better. We can’t turn it over that much and shoot only in the 30 percent [range] and expect to win.’’

The Irish lead the conference in field-goal percentage (49.6 percent) and three-point percentage (39.9 percent). Though DePaul ranks third — one spot ahead of Notre Dame — in the Big East in scoring at 73.2 points, it ranks last in scoring defense.

Even without forward Scott Martin, whose status is in doubt because of continuing knee pain, the Irish haven’t faltered.

‘‘We’re trying to reinvent ourselves with Scott Martin down,’’ Brey said.

Notre Dame center Jack Cooley averages 14.5 points and a Big East-leading 11 rebounds. The Demons continue to lean on guard Brandon Young and forward Cleveland Melvin, who are tied for sixth in the conference in scoring at 16.7 points.

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