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Associated Press
Notre Dame's Eric Atkins, right, looks to a pass against DePaul's Jeremiah Kelly on Feb. 3, 2011.

Atkins named Irish captain

Notre Dame announced that sophomore point guard Eric Atkins will be a captain for the rest of the season.

Atkins joins seniors Scott Martin and Tim Abromaitis in the leadership role. Abromaitis was lost for the season to a knee injury.

Atkins averages a team-high 13.9 points and has started 11 games. He missed two games because of illness.

As a freshman, Atkins played in all 34 games and averaged 5.8 points and 3.2 assists.

"It's a combination of two things," coach Mike Brey said in a phone interview of naming Atkins a captain. "I think he is a blossoming captain. But with the situation of (Abromaitis) down and not able to be out there on the court as a voice and a captain, I thought it was very important we have another voice out there. Certainly, he is our quarterback, and his voice is very important. I think we are all getting accustomed to his voice as our quarterback now.

"I think for Scott to have another guy out there, that was needed too. It was a combination of both of those."

Atkins will debut as a captain in the Big East opener against No. No. 15 Pittsburgh (11-2). The Irish (8-5) tip off at 7 p.m. in Purcell Pavilion.

The Panthers are going through a similar transition as the Irish this season as they work in young player into bigger roles. But Brey said Pitt, who has last its last three to Notre Dame, will be just as tough to play as always.

"They are playing some newer guys," Brey said. "Their guard (Travon Woodall) is hurt, even though we've got to prepare like he is going to play. I think they are trying to develop, like us, some young talented guys in big roles for the Big East. Some nights that's looked great, other nights it hasn't looked as good.

"The one thing Pitt will always do is they will guard you and rebound hard. Then they are going to run their stuff offensively. They are very, very disciplined."

Notre Dame will try to extend its home winning streak to 28 straight but just as important as this game is what comes after it, Brey said. The Irish will have week of practice before traveling to play Cincinnati on Jan. 4.

"That could be as important as the outcome of the game, quite frankly," Brey said of the time between games. "There's no question, don't get me wrong, we get the game this group starts to feel good about itself. I told them they don't necessarily have a bad loss. We've lost badly, but they don't have a bad loss. But we really don't have a great win. Certainly, beating a Pittsburgh program do beat a Big East game would be a really good win for them to help their confidence."