SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame coach Mike Brey sent the Fighting Irish a wake-up call Tuesday.
Brey called an 8 a.m. practice, in addition to the usual afternoon practice, to try to get his players' attention after an embarrassing 74-73 loss at Rutgers, which had been winless in Big East play.
"That one really stings. No question about it," Brey said.
The loss was the fourth in the last five games for the Irish, so Brey wanted to send a message.
"Sometimes you just have to change the routine up," Brey said. "You get into the dog days and the routine of things. I think it creates a sense of urgency and gives you a chance to work on things."
Brey did the same thing last season after the Irish dropped seven straight, capped by an 89-63 loss at UCLA. The Irish responded then to Brey's morning practice with their best game of the season, a surprising 90-57 win over fifth-ranked Louisville.
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame's leading scorer and rebounder, said the intensity at practice was up.
"We're starting to challenge each other," he said. "I think you have to get into each other a little bit. Feelings may be hurt here and there, but it's best for the team."
Brey believes the Irish have to be mentally tougher, particularly on the road, where they are 1-4 this season and have lost 12 of their last 14 road games over the past two seasons.
The Irish (15-7, 4-5 Big East) don't look like an NCAA team midway through the Big East season. They have a win over sixth-ranked West Virginia (17-3) and the loss to Rutgers (10-11, 1-8) as well as an earlier disappointing loss at home in nonconference play to Loyola Marymount (11-12).
Brey believes the Irish can at least be in the NCAA discussion if they win five of their last nine.
"It's going to come down to who you beat. Certainly we have a nice one in West Virginia, but you're going to need more than that," he said.
Among the big games left for the Irish are back-to-back games at home against 16-5 Pittsburgh (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) and at Georgetown (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP) in late February. The Irish will attempt to begin turning things around Thursday when they host Cincinnati (14-7, 5-4), which beat Notre Dame 60-58 on Jan. 16.
The Irish struggled up front in that game against Cincinnati's size. Harangody was 5-of-20 shooting and starting forward Ty Nash didn't have a shot or a rebound and fouled out in just 13 minutes. The Irish were outrebounded 50-31 by the Bearcats.
Harangody said that can't happen again.
"We have to make a statement early on the boards," he said.
Point guard Tory Jackson said the Irish have to outwork their opponents.
"We have to outfight teams. We're not the tallest group. We're not the most athletic group," he said. "We have to be able to fight and not lay down or back off."