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TONIGHT: USF AT NOTRE DAME

WHEN/WHERE: 7:30; Joyce Center, South Bend, Ind.

RADIO: 620-AM.

RECORDS: USF 6-17, 0-10 Big East; Notre Dame 11-10, 2-8.

COACHES: USF - Robert McCullum (27-53, third season; 71-98 overall); Notre Dame - Mike Brey (113-66, sixth season; 212-118).

NOTABLE: It's the first meeting between the schools, and expect a close game. Of the schools' 18 Big East losses, 12 have been by six points or fewer, and the Irish might be the only school that has had more frustratingly close losses than the Bulls: six by three points or fewer including three in overtime. Notre Dame's leading scorer is 6-foot-2 senior guard Chris Quinn (18.6 points), one of four starters averaging in double digits. A key battle will be in the paint, where USF's Solomon Jones goes up against 6-11 Torin Francis, who's getting 11.9 points and 9.4 rebounds a game. Who will be USF's leading scorer in conference play? Jones (13.6), guard James Holmes (14.2) and forward Melvin Buckley (14.6) are all within 10 total points with six games left. Junior forward Melvyn Richardson is barely a factor for the Bulls: Since scoring 10 against Florida Atlantic on Dec. 15, hehas 11 total in 15 games. He has taken one shot in his past eight games. The Bulls return home Saturday to face Rutgers, and USF's home average of 3,493 fans is easily the lowest in the league. Seton Hall (6,661), St. John's (5,742) and Rutgers (5,722) are the only other Big East schools drawing fewer than 8,000 per game.

- GREG AUMAN, Times staff writer

FLORIDA STATE AT

NO. 21 N.C. STATE

WHEN/WHERE: 7; RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.

RADIO: 1470-AM.

RECORDS: FSU 15-6, 5-5 ACC; North Carolina State 19-5, 8-3.

COACHES: FSU - Leonard Hamilton (60-54, fourth season; 260-264 overall); North Carolina State - Herb Sendek (188-127, 10th season; 251-153).

NOTABLE: The Seminoles look for a third straight win and, more important, their first against a ranked team; they're running out of chances at such a signature W to enhance their NCAA Tournament resume. Junior forward Alexander Johnson has four double doubles in his past five games, and his matchup with N.C. State sophomore Cedric Simmons could be pivotal. The Wolfpack is coming off a disappointing 71-68 loss at Georgia Tech but hasn't lost back-to-back games all season. State, which runs a Princeton-style offense (a lot of 3-pointers and backdoor layups), leads the ACC in average 3s made (9.3) and is second in 3-point percentage (.392); the Seminoles are last in the league in 3-point percentage defense (.370). The Wolfpack leads the series 23-15 and has won 13 of the past 14 meetings. FSU's win in that span, however, came in January 2005 in Raleigh. N.C. State is 14-1 at home this season, 5-0 in ACC play. The Seminoles are 3-4 on the road, 2-3 in the ACC; they last won three ACC road games in 1992-93.

- BRIAN LANDMAN, Times staff writer

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