Notre Dame's rigorous start to Big East play concludes tonight against No. 8 Connecticut in Purcell Pavilion.
The No. 14 Irish (12-2, 1-1) have started conference play against three top-10 opponents, opening with a 69-55 win over No. 9 Georgetown last Wednesday and falling 70-58 to No. 5 Syracuse last Saturday.
UConn (12-2, 1-1) also split its first two conference games, falling 78-63 Dec. 27 and then winning 66-61 in overtime against South Florida last Friday.
The Irish will have a new starting lineup for only the second time this season because of an injury.
Senior captain Carleton Scott suffered a partial tear of his left hamstring in the loss to Syracuse and is out indefinitely. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 11.9 points and 6.4 rebounds.
Point guard Eric Atkins – whose first start came against Chicago State on Nov. 17 when forward Scott Martin was sidelined by back spasms – will replace Scott in the starting lineup. The freshman has had a difficult start to his Big East career. The 6-2 Atkins didn't score and picked up four fouls against Georgetown, and he went 1 for 5 for three points with two assists, two steals and two turnovers against Syracuse.
Atkins has been the first sub off the bench for the Irish this season.
No matter how Atkins performs, Notre Dame will need forward Jack Cooley to play significant minutes tonight against Connecticut. The 6-9 forward is averaging 4.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 10.8 minutes per game.
The Irish will also have to find away to slow down Huskies guard Kemba Walker. The 6-1 guard has added a jump shot to his arsenal and leads the nation with 26.7 points per game.
Without one of its leaders, Notre Dame will be hard pressed not to open conference play at 1-2. But the Irish's schedule is less intimidating after tonight's game.
Notre Dame plays host to surprise Big East leader St. John's (10-3, 3-0) at 8 p.m. Saturday and then travels for its next two games against Marquette (10-4, 1-0) at 7 p.m. Monday and then at St. John's again at noon Jan. 16.