Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s hit the road with confidence built-in after home victories against lesser competition to start the season.
Both teams are undefeated as the competition level ramps up Monday night, when the Fighting Irish and Gaels get together in the final game of the relocated Maui Invitational’s first day in Las Vegas.
The winner faces the victor between Oregon and Chaminade on Tuesday. The field also features No. 15 Houston, Wisconsin, Texas A&M and Butler.
“If you can get that first one, then you can start to feel a little bit like you can move on,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “It’s no different than an ACC tournament or an NCAA Tournament. If you can somehow survive the first one, it can jump-start you.”
Notre Dame (2-0) is back in the marquee tournament for the first time since 2017 when it was ranked No. 13 and beat sixth-ranked Wichita State by one point.
The Fighting Irish averaged 69 points on 41.7 percent shooting in home wins over Cal State Northridge and High Point. They won their first game by 16 and then posted a 70-61 win over High Point on Tuesday.
Paul Atkinson is leading Notre Dame into Las Vegas by averaging 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, and is producing at a similar clip to his final season at Yale in 2019-20. Atkinson also is getting help from Dane Goodwin, who is averaging 15.0 points.
Prentiss Hubb is off to a slow start, and Notre Dame will need something closer to the 2020 version to find success in Vegas. Hubb led the team last season, averaging 14.6 points. But he has missed 17 of 20 shots in the first two games.
Saint Mary’s (4-0) heads to its first appearance in the Maui Invitational after allowing 60.3 points in wins over Prairie View, Texas Southern, Southern Utah and Bellarmine. The Gaels chase their first 5-0 start since 2016-17. They are balanced with five double-figure scorers, including Matthias Tass, who scored 25 points in Wednesday’s 73-64 win over Bellarmine.
Saint Mary’s returns most of its roster from last season when it went 14-10, and has had a different leading scorer in each game in Alex Ducas, Dan Fotu, Tommy Kuhse and Tass. Logan Johnson is also averaging 11.5 points per game.
“It’s refreshing,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said of his depth. “You know what they can do and what they bring to the team and that’s where it’s an advantage.”
The schools are meeting for the third time. The last matchup between the teams was Notre Dame’s 29-point home win in 1981.
–Field Level Media